COVID-19 has continued to cause uncertainty without an effective treatment or a vaccine. Many countries have gone through multiple phases of lockdowns as governments and institutions try to minimize the impact of the pandemic. Likewise, the College has been adjusting its methods of operation to ensure a safe learning environment on campus. Considering the uncertainty that the pandemic entails, the College has decided to schedule the spring semester much like the current fall calendar.
“Because our on-campus public health efforts have been strong thus far, we have designed our spring calendar similarly to the fall semester,” Dean of Curriculum and Academic Engagement Jennifer Bowen explained in the email she sent to the campus community.
Although the semester opens on Jan. 18 to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day, classes will begin on Jan 19. This means that winter break will last a week longer than a normal academic year. Classes are also set to end on April 27. Normally, classes for the second semester would end around the first week of May.
Bowen also clarified the updated schedule for the exam week in the email. “This updated spring semester calendar allows for reading days on Wednesday and Thursday, April 28-29, 2021,” Bowen wrote. “Final exams are Friday, April 30, 2021 and Monday through Wednesday, May 3-5, 2021. Commencement is scheduled for Sunday, May 9, 2021.”
The current schedule is designed to maintain the safety of students on campus and provide flexibility. For example, students will be allowed to study remotely next semester as well. There are some challenges, however, that come with the updated schedule, especially due to the lack of days off in the middle of the semester. Instead of a spring break, the College has provided two “rest days” on March 9 and April 7, when all classes are canceled.
One issue that has not been addressed is how seniors will work on their Independent Study (I.S.) without a break.
One senior student, Dung Nguyen ’21, expressed his concern. When asked whether working on I.S. without a spring break will be challenging, Nguyen said, “It won’t be impossible, but it will definitely be more demanding than it already is.”
He continued, “It will be more difficult for students who are double majors and working on two different [Independent Studies]. Also, dealing with a pandemic is stressful by itself, so writing a thesis will probably be more challenging regardless of the break. Getting some time off other academic obligations to focus on I.S. would have definitely helped.”
Another student has expressed a different concern, one pertaining to on-campus employment for international students. Since students are allowed to work on campus for 40 hours per week during breaks, many international students spend their breaks taking advantage of this opportunity since they cannot work outside campus. The removal of breaks may cause problems for students who rely on employment during breaks to earn their work-study financial aid.
“Many of my friends and I work on campus during fall and spring breaks since we can work more hours then,” Ezana Kiros ’22, a student from Ethiopia, explained. “However, since there are no breaks this semester and the next, I’m worried we may not get to work as much as we used to. [International students] cannot work outside campus unless we have been approved for a Curricular Practical Training, so not having breaks means we may not be able to earn the amount of money listed on our work-study aid.” Since the hours of operation in different departments have been adjusted, many students have had trouble finding an adequate number of work hours. However, providing a longer break in the middle of the semester would guarantee that many students may travel off-campus, subsequently returning to Wooster from different parts of the country. This would increase the chances of student exposure to COVID-19 when everybody returns to campus. “We understand that the elimination of spring break will be challenging for many reasons, but given the public health circumstances surrounding leaving, travel and returning to campus, any full weeks off from classes would prove to be an irresponsible decision for our community,” Bowen explained.