Fall reading week to learn its fate

Sleeping week. CollegeDegrees360

Who would vote ‘no?’

Students are back from fall reading week, the U of R’s second time offering a mid-semester reprieve in classes. In the fall of 2018, the university piloted a fall break for the first time. 2019 was the second and final year of this trial.

A survey that allows respondents to evaluate the fall break was sent out to the university community on Nov. 12. Data from the completed evaluations “will be used to determine the continued interest and timing of future reading weeks,” as stated in Registrar James D’Arcy’s communication.

The survey asks about the appropriateness of the semester’s timing, its length, as well as its effectiveness. At the end of the survey, several other break options are outlined, including a full week in October following Thanksgiving, or a full week in November attached to Remembrance Day.

In the winter semester, the university offers a five-day long reading week during the third week of February, attached to Family Day which consistently falls on the third Monday of that month. One of the biggest questions that is often raised is that, if the university sees it fit or necessary to give students a break in the winter, why wouldn’t it be standard to do the same in the fall?

Mackenzy Vida, a fourth-year visual arts and creative technologies student has the same question.

“I don’t understand why there would be a break in the winter, but not in the fall. Why should the fall semester be any different?”

Vida reflects on year of studies at the University of Ottawa. “All Ontario universities have a reading week attached to Thanksgiving to provide the opportunity to travel home, catch up on assignments, as well as take time for mental health.

“The week off also provides extra time for students to study on a quieter campus. This is especially great for visual arts students who need to be in the studio to complete their work.”

Nicole Denis, a professor  at La Cité, argues that, for first-years specifically, the fall semester can be a huge adjustment.

“The fall semester can be more stressful for first-year students because it’s their first experience at university. They’re still figuring out the campus, expectations and campus life – not to mention perhaps even living on their own for the first time. At least with the second semester they have the one semester under their belt.”

Turning to the notion of piloting the reading week, Denis stated, “I do like the idea of doing trials, but I think in this case, because we already have a break in that second semester, we see the advantages at all levels. [Students] can put in the time if they need to catch up on homework or they need to spend more time doing meditation, whatever they need to do to unwind. Then they come back and they can possibly put in [those] last four or five weeks and then recuperate after exams.”

“When I was going to school, we wouldn’t even say reading week, we would say suicide week. I think now that we have more mental health awareness, everyone seems a lot more cognisant of what that is and specifically the struggles that students face. School is stressful. It can be stressful financially, it can be stressful emotionally, [students] are in this new environment where the pressure is on. So, if somebody does struggle with mental health, they likely will struggle with it when they are going to school.”

“As a prof, there is nothing that I have to sacrifice in order to have that week be put into practice. I still have all the same teaching hours. Perhaps you end up teaching a little later, but I think it’s only a two-day difference. That is such an insignificant detail because most profs are here Monday to Friday. [Students] are the ones going through the ringer.”

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