On Friday, Oct. 9, students at Davidson College received an exciting email from the Davidson administration. “No classes, labs, discussion sections, no mandatory activities. Relax and catch your breath,” read the email, continuing to emphasize that students must follow COVID-19 precautions on their day off.
Davidson, located in North Carolina, shares many similarities with Bates, especially in terms of their pandemic response. The college enrolls around 1,800 students, has a rate of positive cases of less than 1%, and is testing all of its students at least once a week. Similar to institutions across the U.S., including Bates, Davidson cancelled its fall break and is sending students home after classes end on Nov. 20.
The college orchestrated its day off by first emailing faculty at 6:00 PM EST on Thursday to explain the break. The email detailed that, “the reason for this break is that students are burnt out. Sitting in front of a Zoom screen all day, with little opportunity for in-person socializing, is exhausting.”
Bates students are just as desperate for a day off. Although the motivations behind cancelling fall break are clear and worthwhile, students have gone several months without more than a weekend off. This has been compounded by the unusual circumstances spurred on by COVID-19 and the election cycle; students have been bombarded by a fast-paced module schedule whilst also experiencing the added stressors of the election, the continued violence against marginalized communities, and the rising COVID-19 cases across the U.S.
This past Friday, Oct. 30., was a clear example that these circumstances are piling up and stress is at an all-time high. The morning included events hosted by Sara Gideon, the Democratic nominee for the Senate election in Maine, and Joe Kennedy III, a U.S. representative who visited Lewiston to campaign for Biden/Harris. On-campus, the afternoon was devoted to a protest sponsored by the Bates College Student Government that centered around BIPOC voices and demanded that the Bates community do better.
Amidst these events was the underlying tension from the news that three students tested positive for COVID-19, marking the largest single-day report of COVID-19 at Bates. And, just yesterday, three more cases were reported at Bates; more than 50 students have directly been impacted by COVID-19 positives in the last week.
Last Friday showcased what Batesies are capable of: the bravery and leadership of BIPOC voices; the willingness of students to stand in the cold in support of political candidates; all whilst maintaining the COVID-19 precautions that have allowed us to succeed in fostering a college community amidst the pandemic.
Bates administration cannot ask students to continue to do this on top of the Zoom classes and hastened midterms necessitated by the safety precautions. In my experience, especially during election week, students are anxious, sad, and angry.
They’re scared about the uptick in COVID-19 cases, they’re anxious about the election, and they’re sad about the inability to socialize outside as the weather grows cooler. The last thing on our minds is homework.
Although I understand that the module schedule creates a situation where a day off means even fewer days to teach crucial material, I feel deeply that it is worth it. Bates, please show us that you’re listening and give students a much needed day off.