Boston College—as an institution grounded in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition—should better protect its students’ well-being by enforcing a policy limiting assignments due directly after breaks. This change would help the University prioritize students’ mental health and honor the Jesuit, Catholic commitment to cura personalis, or the care of the whole person.
Students at BC are more than just students. They are also athletes, club presidents, student leaders, and most importantly—people. BC boasts that it educates well-rounded and reflective individuals, yet does not enforce students’ right to rest and reflect over break.
The University should implement a policy to ensure that breaks are not immediately followed by exams or large assignments. This policy could require departments and professors to not assign major papers, exams, or projects that are worth more than 10 percent of the class grade in the first three days after a major break.
Students need rest throughout the semester for the sake of their mental health. In a survey conducted by Student Affairs, 44 percent of BC students rated their stress levels as average or less than average. This means that 56 percent—over half—of BC students experience above-average levels of stress.
One 2004 study from Tel Aviv University found that students who reported working during their Passover break were more likely to experience post-vacation burnout, while those who reported visiting friends and traveling for sightseeing were less likely to do so.
The length of the fall and spring semesters coupled with the scarcity of breaks contribute to feelings of burnout. The spring semester in particular is four months long with only three breaks: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Spring Break and Easter break. And, since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day fell directly at the end of Winter Break this year, it was merely an extension of Winter Break, not a break in itself. Students count on this limited built-in downtime to make it through the semester.
Yet this designated time for mental wellness and physical rest is too often undermined by large assignments and exams due immediately upon returning to campus. Final exams are more structured, with built-in study days and a set exam schedule, but midterms can last from February through mid-March. Students are often hit with exams in the weeks leading up to Spring Break, and then are expected to return to more exams and assignments in the immediate days following break. This means that instead of taking time to reset and recharge, students must continue working and focusing on academics.
Beyond the choices of individual professors, sometimes entire academic departments schedule exams immediately after returning from breaks. For example, on the Monday following Spring Break this year, BC’s Spanish department assigned an in-class writing exam for students in Intermediate Spanish II—a class required for many Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences students to graduate. Whether or not a student gets to enjoy their break should not be left up to the whim of a professor or academic departments.
To fully honor its commitment to cura personalis, the University must ensure that students are afforded the right to rest during semester breaks. This would not only improve their mental and physical health, but ultimately aid in their academic success as well.