The Examiner is a column dedicated to discussing and examining campus issues and the Macalester experience.
Macalester cancelled classes for a few Mondays last year. Those Mondays were called wellness days. This year, as Macalester changed back to a typical schedule of semesters and full breaks, wellness days were cut. Should the college bring back wellness days?
Last year, when wellness days were official, I heard mixed opinions from my friends. People enjoyed having a day off and thought professors respected wellness days. Students didn’t get extra homework for the extra day on the weekend. But I also heard plenty of jokes about how, once we had a wellness day, we were suddenly “well.” Macalester didn’t need to do anything else for our mental health because we got a stray Monday off. We were cured! We’d never be sad again. (Note: because of the pod rule last year, I couldn’t get a scope of most peers’ thoughts, since I really talked to about 15 other students. So maybe other people had different reactions.)
I haven’t honestly heard many people say they miss having wellness days this year. Yet, it seems like last year, the college decided mental wellbeing was at a low enough level to warrant an occasional day off. This year, by not having designated wellness days, it’s as if the school is saying that everyone is fine now and doesn’t need “wellness.” But, that’s mostly going off of the word “wellness” in wellness days. To clarify, wellness days weren’t actually added to give students extra “wellness.” The college shortened other breaks to discourage travel and pushed the extra days into a few weekends during the modules. Those shifted break days became wellness days. Unless the college shortens breaks again next year, they would have to rework the academic schedule to allow interspersed days off. So I understand why they don’t exist anymore.
Still, I don’t agree with the message sent by getting rid of them. It does seem like the school thought people deserved some wellness-focused time last year and assumed we’re good to go now, as if we don’t need time off anymore. But judging from what I feel and what other people say, we still need time off. I’m not sure if Macalester implementing wellness days again would fully address that need (or even best address it). It would be much more powerful if Macalester students, faculty and admin fostered an environment where people felt capable of feeling out their own needs and taking a day off if they needed to — no matter if it matches up with a long weekend or if it’s a Thursday in a busy week.
It helps for the school to create wellness days for students, but it’s much more powerful if students decide for themselves to take a break. Only students really know when they need a day off or would feel much better after a day off. It also makes Macalester feel like a much better place to be if students believe taking a couple days off isn’t going to ruin them. Napping or reading or doodling away a Wednesday doesn’t make anyone a lazy student. And it’s not reasonable to think you need to exert 110% every single day. So, don’t do it. Take a day off. We’ll all be okay if we do.
Granted, I need to work on this too. I haven’t taken a day off just to relax since coming to Macalester. When I feel too stressed, I’ll maybe nap in between commitments. I’ll still go. And I’ll do all my work. This isn’t Macalester-specific for me, though. The only times I really took days off in high school were because I had a flight or was so overwhelmed I couldn’t go to bed until 4:00 a.m. (Or was so stressed the day before school that I kept crying about being a “bad nut”… long story). Anyway, I’m not used to setting aside a day to chill. I know that, for myself, there are plenty of things in my personal history that make it so I’m worried about school – and I’m sure other people’s backgrounds influence how they approach college. But the thing is, even though it stresses me out, I know it’d be good for me to try “a day off” at least once and see if my GPA doesn’t drop to 0.0 or if my brain turns to mush. (Most likely, I’d be okay and glad I did it).
I’ve heard from other students that they feel similarly to me: like they always need to work their hardest. Diligence and effort are valuable, but we all seem to put those values above our needs. There definitely isn’t enough programming, structure or discussion that teach students to value their personhood over their academics. I’m not saying there’s zero opportunities to care for your mental health or take a quick break. The Hamre Center provides counselors, departments set up cute coffee hours and some professors will accommodate if you need an extension. Also, kudos to the students; I’m not under any impression that I go to a school full of robots. I know other students struggle. But we’re still at a point where constant effort is the ideal. With that in mind, it may be necessary for the college to have designated days off. Not every student feels they’re able to stop for a minute. Few probably do. I think it could be the institution’s responsibility to address that and designate more days off.
Personally, I appreciated when the academic calendar set up wellness days; I got to watch a movie with my friends on a Sunday night. But I’d learn much more if I chose to stay home and be peaceful. And, if most people at Macalester felt comfortable trying that, it might help the rest of us know to pause when we need to. But I don’t think Macalester has an academic culture that lets us do that yet.