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Students, professors reflect on first Wellness Day

Exhaustion, Zoom fatigue and burnout swept over Boston University students and faculty as they entered their eighth week of the semester, with no Spring Recess in sight. But last Thursday, a long awaited 24-hour break arrived: a Wellness Day with no classes, exams or work due.

Two people walking a dog in brookline massachusetts
Two people walk a dog in Brookline. While some students and faculty enjoyed their first Wellness Day Thursday, others felt it was an insufficient replacement for Spring Recess. LAURYN ALLEN/ DFP FILE

The University announced in a letter from University Provost and Chief Academic Officer Jean Morrison Jan. 13 that the school would provide two “Wellness Days” for students and faculty to provide “much-needed breaks” throughout the semester. The next is scheduled for March 31.

In the letter, Morrison wrote the University hopes Wellness Days will provide “the opportunity to focus on your personal restorative needs.” BU’s Wellness Days webpage provides a list of possible activities for the day, including journaling, doing homework, sleeping or being grateful for “the good today.”

Todd Leporatti, a sophomore in College of Communication, wrote in an email he supports the Wellness Day initiatives to make up for the absence of a Spring Recess.

“I think the Wellness Days were a great idea,” he wrote. “Placing them in March was a good choice, as this is when spring break usually is and we are checked out by this point.”

Leporatti wrote he dedicated his day to finishing school work and de-stressing with a BU Fitness and Recreation Center workout.

Patrick Szekely, a senior in The Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, had a different take on the Wellness Day.

“I thought it was pretty useless,” he said.

Szekely said he thinks not having a Spring Recess — a decision BU made to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposures — did not effectively deter students from traveling because of the Learn from Anywhere program.

“All the people who would have gone to Miami to party anyways just went because of Learn from Anywhere,” he said.

He said the flow of a university schedule is important, but he could use an extended break.

“I feel so tired right now,” he said, “I really need a vacation.”

When the University announced the cancellation of Spring Recess, it also pushed the semester start date back a week to late January.

Leporatti wrote he thought the notice for the extra week of winter break was “somewhat last minute,” and it might have been more beneficial to end the semester a week early instead — especially for off-campus students, who could have saved money on May rent.

“Either way, I support these initiatives instead of a traditional Spring Break,” he wrote.

Jeanette Villanueva, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, said it is difficult for the University to monitor students’ travel.

“They don’t want people leaving, which is super valid, but people still leave right now, and they come back,” Villanueva said. “No one is going to tell you can’t leave campus right now if you’re on campus, you just got to get your COVID tests.”

As the semester treks on, Deborah Kelemen, a professor in psychological and brain sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she is starting to notice the semester’s impact on students, who she said are facing difficulties concentrating on Zoom and adapting to the “abnormality” of the continued remote instruction.

“People are fairly depleted, even though they started the semester late,” Kelemen said. “We’re just operating under exceptional circumstances.”

She said though she thinks the University likely made “the best decision that could have been made at the time” when deciding to remove Spring Recess, she’s not sure it’s still effective.

“I think if we’d known how ongoingly difficult the semester was going to be,” she said, “it would have been great to have had a week.”

Kelemen said herself and her students have struggled with Zoom fatigue and the unprecedented nature of this year.

“It’s exhausting,” she said. “When you’re on Zoom and you’re working from home, it’s the case that, you know, there’s really nothing stopping work from going on well into the evening.”

After making sure all her staff had the day off, Keleman said she spent the day at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence with her son, who was on his spring break.

Kelman said Wellness Days should not be a time to assign extra work, but a time to relax.

“I think that that’s not really how the Wellness Day was intended and it’s not what’s needed right now,” she said. “People need to stop.”

Villanueva said she decided to use the Wellness Day to truly relax, taking the concept “very seriously.”

“I definitely slept in, until like 10 a.m., which I rarely do,” Villanueva said. “Then I went to Pavement [Coffeehouse], got myself a very delicious yummy iced coffee and breakfast bagel.”

Villanueva said she spent the rest of the day doing other activities such as watching “Superbad,” making the trek to Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and working out with a Cassey Ho “Blogilates” video. A special moment from the day, she said, was worshiping at church with her friends.

“It was really nice to just spend that time with each other just singing together,” she said, “which was just super cool, especially in the rain.”

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