After a semester with few breaks, students demand respite

The Concordia community is tired, and two students think they have a solution. Hannah Wilson and Kayla Zopfi created a Change.org petition urging Concordia College to increase the number of respite days per semester from one to five. 

During a regular fall semester, Concordia students have a full week of classes off during late October. This semester, that break was sacrificed for the sake of safety. Looking ahead to the spring semester, the college has published a near-identical plan to not have the usual weeklong spring break in favor of one respite day in February. 

Wilson and Zopfi recognize that the college took away the break to discourage students from commuting back and forth from home, potentially exposing themselves or others to the coronavirus.

From Nov. 15 to Nov. 19, the petition was signed by over 882 people. Since the initial surge, the petition has garnered 973 signatures as of Dec. 7.

“This is students bolding proclaiming ‘we are not doing well, here is what we need to succeed,’” Zopfi said.

Wilson and Zopfi believe the issue is not a lack of awareness of the resources that Concordia provides.

“It’s a structural issue of how the semester was set up in regard to student success,” Zopfi said. 

Wilson and Zopfi believe that to heal and move forward, the administration should recognize what has been done by their actions.

Students have opened up about their experiences this semester on the Change.org petition for anyone to see. A quick scan of the comments left on the petition shows students, alumni and faculty expressing their feelings about the semester.

“I’m burnt out, just exhausted. One day is not enough to make it through a whole semester, especially for students that work too,” said senior Kayla Drevlow. 

Two Concordia students and their online schooling setup | David Lindgren

“Our one respite day was not enough. It was a day to catch up on all of the other work that has been assigned. I am exhausted and have no motivation to do my work,” said junior Dalton Schnabel. “We deserve more days to simply breathe and take a break. We must have more respite days in the spring.”

“I’m a professor and I feel exactly the same way. Solidarity!” said professor Jacqueline Bussie on a post about the petition. 

Academic counselor, Chad Lystad, meets with dozens of students each week. From his experience, the mental exhaustion has been clear.

“‘Burnout,’ ‘I have hit a wall,’ ‘I am so tired and needing a break.’ Almost everybody I’ve talked to relayed something along those lines of being completely burned out by the time we got to Thanksgiving break” Lystad said.

Wilson and Zopfi emphasized that this increase of respite days needs to apply to students and faculty because both populations are experiencing burnout from the semester’s lack of breaks.

“In some ways, they’re putting in more work than (students). They see that (students) are getting burnt out, so then they are putting in even more effort to support students who aren’t feeling supported,” Zopfi said. 

On Nov. 19, the Concordia Student Government Association discussed the petition and unanimously voted to endorse it, according to an update on the petition’s website.

The college’s faculty senate met on Dec. 7 where they agreed to extend the spring semester’s respite to begin at 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 16 and end at 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 18. This extended respite will have an exception for nursing and dietetics students. 

Also discussed at the faculty senate was the idea of a wellness day where classes would reconvene for programming dedicated to mental health. This day would be similar to the college’s symposium and Martin Luther King Jr. Day events. 

“We are not even in the coldest, darkest, and loneliest months of the year yet,” Zopfi said, advocating for the proposed wellness day. “We can’t keep going at this rate.” 

“My hope is that students have the opportunity to have more days off,” Lystad said. “However, if that doesn’t happen, it’s really important for students to take what they learned this semester in terms of their burnout, and really practice self-care from the get-go.”

“Our demands are not impossible to meet. We have and will continue to work to find possible options to attain more respite days,” Wilson and Zopfi said in the Nov. 30 update to their petition’s website. 

Dean of Concordia College, Susan Larson, has noted that the Faculty Executive Committee recognizes the support the petition has gathered and will “discuss and make recommendations for supporting the health and wellbeing of students as we all respond to the stress of living and learning during a pandemic.” 

The petition and increase in respite days is the bare minimum that Wilson and Zopfi want. Even as students work toward getting more respite days for the spring semester, that change will not erase their feelings about this fall semester. 

“People have already been hurt, intentional or not,” Wilson said. “I feel like we’re demanding a change, but we should also be demanding an apology.”

The petition can be found at: https://www.change.org/p/the-president-s-cabinet-concordia-college-moorhead-additional-respite-days?utm_content=cl_sharecopy_25855781_en-US%3A2&recruiter=845906051&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition 

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