The University of Waterloo Senate approved a three-year trial run for a fall reading break starting in 2016. </p>
The vote, which took place at the Oct. 19 senate meeting comes a year after voting took place among the student body on whether or not UW should consider adding a fall reading break. A total of 73.8 per cent of the students who voted were in favour of it.
The question remains: how will the new fall reading break impact UW students, and what can we expect?
The reading break will add two days off after Thanksgiving Monday, making it a five-day break. To offset this, classes will start the Thursday after Labour Day, shortening orientation week by two days.
One of the main challenges in integrating a fall reading break was how complex the UW schedule already is. Nick Manning, the director of media relations and issues management, said that this included “co-op and a lot of the mandatory programs that a huge chunk of students are in. Scheduling, while making sure that we have a weeklong orientation and that we can always finish exams by the 22nd of December is a real challenge, and on top of that, we’ve got complex lab programs as well that need to be accommodated. Scheduling such a complex campus environment just hasn’t meant in the past that a full reading week would be possible, but once students had asked us to do that as a part of the referendum, we needed to look very seriously at the options in commencing it and to implement it.”
Stephane Hamade, Feds VP education, said that, “A fall break is helpful for students to relieve stress built up through the term, which is helpful for mental health.”
The major benefit of the added fall reading break is that students have the choice of using the time to catch up on readings and studying, or simply take a much-needed rest and de-stress before midterms begin.
It is no surprise that with all of the projects, readings, and studying beginning to pile up near midterms, it can become very overwhelming for some students to manage properly and can create a lot of stress.
“When stress is left unmanaged, it has a sort of building effect, like building blocks … and that’s when students start to feel overwhelmed and display other physical symptoms or other mental health symptoms,” said Emily Overgaard, the peer health education co-ordinator at UW.
If not managed well, stress can have long-lasting health implications, both mentally and physically. Mentally, stress can affect “students ability to retain information,… can affect their ability to reach out, and can cause students to become socially isolated,” said Overgaard. Physically, students “might feel sick, might have a panic attack, [and] can also increase a person’s cortisol levels, which drives that fight-or-flight response.… Having those constantly elevated levels of cortisol can deplete the ability of your adrenal glands to regulate properly and function, which can cause students to feel burnt out.” Because of this, they may also “tend to feel a lot more hungry [which] may cause a lot of issues with diet.” It is no wonder that many students are feeling relieved when looking ahead at the new change to the schedule.
“Delivering the kind of experience that students demand is something that the university is very keen on doing — we’re very pleased to be able to introduce these changes,” said Manning.