Most students enrolled at Ryerson are familiar with this time of year — fall reading week. But is a fall break actually necessary?
At a time where students are overwhelmed with school work and other pressures such as jobs, family and social lives, Ryerson’s vice-provost of students Heather Lane Vetere says that reading week is like a “pressure valve” that turns the temperature down so students can get a breather and then start coping with the stress and work again.
Students seem to be more stressed than ever. In 2013, the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services conducted a survey of more than 16,000 post-secondary students. Results found that 56.9 per cent of those surveyed “felt things were hopeless” and 89.7 per cent felt overwhelmed with all their responsibilities at some point in the last 12 months.
Ryerson introduced a reading week in the Fall 2012 semester. After lobbying from the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), the case was presented to the Ryerson senate for approval.
Lane Vetere says that not only is reading week a good break for students, it’s also a break for the university’s staff and faculty. Although she doesn’t have the week off, she says that it’s a good opportunity for staff to catch up on work without as many interruptions.
“It’s about the mental health of everybody.”
Jenna Davies from Students for Mental Awareness, Support, & Health (SMASH), a student group on campus, thinks that for students dealing with stress, fall reading week comes at a good time. She says knowing that a break is approaching is great to have in the back of your mind but that there is a consequence for having the break.
“Sometimes we’ll be overloaded with stuff immediately after reading week and that becomes stressful,” said Davies, a fourth-year social work student.
Many universities have added a fall break to their academic calendar in recent years, with Ryerson being one of the first. Some have chosen to add a two-day break while others, like Ryerson, have incorporated a full week.
Still, many schools do not have a fall break.
The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) doesn’t have one this year, but UOIT’s registrar and assistant vice-president, planning & analysis Brad MacIsaac says that the school will add a two-day break at the end of October for next year.
Last year, the university held a survey for faculty and students in collaboration with their students’ association asking students if they’d like a fall break. MacIsaac says that the school took the mental health of students and student reaction on social media into consideration when it came time to propose a fall break.
Madisen Jong, a second-year nursing student at UOIT, said that she would benefit from a few days off.
“It would be nice to have a break where you can actually relax with your family and friends,” she said. “It’s so stressful right now. I’ve had so many breakdowns.”
Ryerson’s engineers don’t have a fall break either. Due to the intensity and the credits required to complete their degrees, engineers have to work through the fall semester without a break.
Engineering student Urooj Siddiqui thinks that having an empty campus is “nice and peaceful.” Now in her fourth year, she is used to not having a fall break, but does think that it would be nice.
“I think we do need it … I have a lot of assignments and midterms because it’s piling up. It would be useful to have a break, but if we can’t, we can’t.”
Although there is currently no way of determining whether a fall reading week has had an effect on student mental health, Lane Vetere says that the fact that other universities have followed Ryerson’s lead shows its success.
“I’ve never heard anyone say we shouldn’t have it,” said Lane Vetere.