Fall Break Should Be a Break

The common wisdom at Amherst is that you learn the most outside of the classroom. When we look back on our past years, what we will remember most are the late night talks in our first year dorms, chats with our professors over coffee and our favorite pieces of art at the Mead. Yet it’s hard to deny that, as much as we hate doing them, our essays, problem sets and exams are important too. They make what we’re learning relevant and important. Our grades hold us to our commitment to learn and push us beyond passive listening in class.

We all know that one of the most stressful periods of the year is the midterm week (or two) that hits us right before fall break. What is surprising, however, is how busy people seem to be right after break as well. Organic chemistry and biology exams were held in the three-day post-break week that recently passed, and there have even been reports of take-home exams and papers due during break itself. If you didn’t have the bad luck to be one of these people, then you probably at least know someone who had to stay up until 3 a.m. on Tuesday night because they hadn’t done any work for the essay due the Wednesday after break.

A typical conversation about break often ends like this: “Break was great — but now I’m stressed because I didn’t do any work.” As Amherst students, we’re expected to be busy all the time. One might think that if we haven’t done work over the break, it’s our own fault and we’ve, in essence, chosen to screw ourselves over. But is this fair to us — not only as students who are in an environment that constantly pushes us to work hard but also (and more importantly) as well-rounded people who occasionally need time to recharge and focus on ourselves?

Whether or not it’s right, at the moment, “break” has become an opportunity for professors to cram in essays, assignments or midterms. Break is only four days long, and most students use it to head home and see family or friends they won’t be able to visit for another two months. Forcing us to work straight through the period set aside for our own rest and rejuvenation simply isn’t fair.

The fact is that many students, with upcoming exams and essays, put off their work until the last minute in order to get the rest they need over break. Then, staying up late cramming or writing those last few pages, they negate any rejuvenating effects the break may have had. Simply put, a large amount of work during or due directly after break isn’t fair to students. We need these short periods to focus on ourselves and our own well-being so that when we must buckle down and be good students, we can do so properly.