First Day Back in School

LSU students head to class Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 on their first day of school in the Quad on LSU's campus.

When Gabie deBruler discovered the University canceled class Oct. 28 due to Hurricane Zeta, she was relieved. The mass communication senior felt overwhelmed this semester with the cancelation of fall break.

“I know I should have been worried about the hurricane, but I thanked God that I finally had a night off. That sounds horrible, but it’s true,” deBruler said.

Many students share deBruler’s feelings and were disappointed with LSU’s spring 2021 calendar, which the University released Oct. 15.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, University administration canceled spring and Mardi Gras break under advisement of its team of medical experts, according to Executive Vice President Provost Stacia Haynie. To reduce the likelihood that students will travel, these traditional holidays were replaced with one-day breaks:

  • Monday, Jan. 18 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • Tuesday, Feb. 16 – Mardi Gras
  • Friday, March 12 – Mid-Semester Break
  • Thursday, March 25 – March Break
  • Friday, April 2 – Good Friday

LSU’s spring classes will have similar formats as the fall semester, with a combination of online, in-person and hybrid coursework. This announcement did not come as a shock to some students, but it offers little relief for those burnt out from the new stresses of online school.

UCFY College Council Vice President Xavier Kent said the stress of the pandemic warrants a break.

“With all due respect to LSU and the administration, they don’t know what it feels like to be an undergrad during this pandemic,” Kent said. “This semester is by far the hardest semester I’ve ever had to get through. Students won’t have the time to refresh and refocus for the second half of the spring semester.”

Haynie said she and the administration understand that students would rather have traditional spring breaks, but the medical team advised that leaving time for students to travel increases the risk of an outbreak when they return to campus.

“The experts are telling us that the virus will not behave any differently in the spring,” Haynie said. “We are tired of the virus, but as much as we are done with it, the virus is not done with us. We have to be incredibly diligent to contain it.”

Haynie said the administration took student concerns into consideration when it finalized the spring calendar, sending the first draft to University leadership councils, Faculty Senate and Student Government. From there, SG worked to draft an alternative schedule that would offer more days off.

Angelina Cantelli, deputy chief of staff of SG, said the organization proposed two alternative calendars with two additional days off: one with a consecutive Thursday and Friday off and one with nonconsecutive days off. deBruler said SG knew students wouldn’t be satisfied with three days off, so SG President Stone Cox and Vice President Hannah Barrios fought to get the two additional days off.

The administration opted for the latter proposal, but Cantelli said she feels like the provost did what she could to mitigate student concerns about mental health.

“I’m grateful they asked for our feedback because three days off wasn’t enough,” Cantelli said. “Five days still doesn’t feel like enough. We all deserve a break, to not work straight through an entire semester.”

Kent said he and other SG leaders have gotten feedback from students reporting depressive episodes stemming from stress due to a constant and heavy virtual workload. Since his position focuses on freshmen, Kent expressed his concern for first-years being unused to a collegiate workload, much less a remote one with one-day breaks.

“They’re coming from high school where they’re used to getting a week off for Thanksgiving or Mardi Gras, so they’re already working more than they’re used to,” Kent said. “When you add coronavirus and remove breaks, the freshmen class gets stuck with a workload like they’ve never seen before.”

deBruler, who serves as senior advisor to the SG vice president, said not having back-to-back days off robs both in-state and out-of-state students of an opportunity to get a real mental break from school and time with family.

“What’s really awful is not having those consecutive days off, not just from homework but from extracurriculars,” deBruler said. “Not to mention, I live in-state, and it’s been hard for me to go home. I can’t imagine being an out-of-state student.”

ISDS junior Nanine Cowan is an in-state student, and she said she was disheartened to see a lack of extended breaks in the new schedule.

“Since I’ve been to campus this semester, I have not been home once. The amount of time I spend doing school takes a toll on me. Looking at the spring schedule and realizing that there’s not really time for me to take for myself or my family was . . . awful,” Cowan said.

Students have also expressed their opinions on how they perceive the University makes decisions seemingly disconnected from students’ best interest. Kinesiology junior Caleigh Foto said she didn’t see the logic.

“It feels like they made this decision to promote an image,” Foto said. “They say we can’t travel for breaks, yet every Saturday random people come to campus for football and mix with students anyway.”

Sociology junior Harlee Rowe said while she perceives LSU’s priorities as misaligned, student perception of administrative decisions could be disconnected from reality.

“I know students feel that the University sometimes makes decisions based on what will turn a profit,” Rowe said. “We don’t feel like our mental health was considered. If they do consider the student body – and they may – we surely don’t hear about it.”

According to Haynie, students should give feedback to SG because their feedback is considered. She meets with SG leaders regularly and those leaders are linked into decisions regarding the student body. However, in the midst of a global pandemic, Haynie made it clear that LSU administration must defer to medical experts in pandemic-related matters.

Other Louisiana colleges released their spring schedules, with ULL’s providing eight days off with three consecutive days off for Easter and two consecutive days off for Mardi Gras. UNO’s calendar gives students five days off with two consecutive days off for Mardi Gras.

The provost said other in-state colleges might not have the same demographic makeup LSU has being a large state flagship university.

“I meet every two weeks with SEC provosts, and we’re all doing the same thing,” Haynie said. “We’re all facing the same challenge. When you’re a large state flagship with 25% of students from out of state, that adds a layer of complexity.”

While some student feedback has not been positive, Cantelli said she thinks students will see that the administration is simultaneously working to keep campus safe and consider student feedback.

“While I would love to have breaks in an ideal world, I understand the threat of having people traveling and coming back in the middle of the semester,” Cantelli said. “At the end of the day, it was just an unfortunate choice administration had to make.”

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