Students, staff discuss idea of reinstituting wellness days

Students, staff discuss idea of reinstituting wellness days

Kamini Ramakrishna and Emma Salomon

During the 2020-2021 school year, Macalester interspersed multiple “wellness days” into the academic calendar during which classes were cancelled and no work was due. Given the rigor of the module system, many students found these days useful.

“Every time a wellness day came last year, it was at a time when I really needed it,” Alex Petelin `24 said.

There has been interest among students to reintroduce wellness days into this academic year. The Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) has been discussing the potential for this in their weekly meetings amid broader conversations about student wellness and burnout. However, according to the Educational Policy and Governance Committee (EPAG), it may not be feasible.

According to Director of Academic Programs Ann Minnick, as an institution of higher education Macalester requires a certain amount of instructional days in order to maintain its accredited status. Implementing wellness days would mean rearranging the already set academic calendar. This rearrangement would mean adding days to the school year or removing days from breaks. Last year, the administration made the decision to shorten spring break partly in order to accommodate additional days off during the school year, a decision that many students did not view favorably.

Tom Liu ‘24, a student representative on EPAG and chair of the Academic Affairs Committee, said EPAG is creating a survey to substantiate the claim that traditional wellness days are not what a majority of students want due to the added consequence of taking away days from breaks. After it is sent to students sometime in the near future, EPAG aims to work on a policy to address wellness days as well as alternatives to aid students’ mental health.

Liu emphasized the importance of students thinking about what they really need for themselves in terms of mental health. He highlighted that the issue of wellness days is further complicated by the question of whether we are back to “normal life” enough to need wellness days, as Macalester did not have them before the pandemic.

“Wellness days [were] established in tragic context; [it is] imperative to reconsider and confirm with other students that what they are actively seeking is the means to improve their mental health,” Liu said.

MCSG Community Engagement Officer Ayana Smith-Kooiman `22* believes that wellness days might not necessarily be the solution to problems that students are facing.

“I actually don’t think wellness days are what people want, but rather that it’s a symptom of a larger problem: a culture of academic burnout,” Smith-Kooiman said.

In her work as a MCSG member, Smith-Kooiman has been helping students voice concerns to administration. According to Smith-Kooiman, Provost Lisa Anderson-Levy has also been informed about these issues and has expressed concern and desire to help students with mental health; Anderson-Levy herself has noticed a large-scale culture of “busy” on campus that leads to burnout and academic fatigue.

Due to the events of the Nov. 3rd senior staff coffee chat that evolved into a student protest, President Rivera sent an email to the Macalester community announcing that the administration has asked EPAG to consider adding an impromptu wellness day to this semester as soon as possible.

The long-term project surrounding mental health initiatives and wellness days is a work in progress, and according to admin and EPAG, it will remain so for the near future. In the meantime, Minnick suggests that students take responsibility for their own individual mental health and wellness by utilizing options such as pass/fail grading for classes and designating personal rest days for themselves.

*Ayana Smith-Kooiman is a web editor for the Mac Weekly