‘Students have been burned out already’

Blugolds are grateful and frustrated by creation of two ‘wellness days’

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Photo by Ta'Leah Van Sistine

An email sent to students on April 8 announced there would be two “wellness days” on April 16 and 29 in lieu of a spring break. Some Blugolds still have assignments due on those days, preventing them from fully stepping “away from the classroom,” as the email from the Chancellor’s Office indicated.

When Macey Fischer, a fourth-year psychology student, found out that UW-Eau Claire would be giving students two “wellness days,” she was insulted. 

“It’s sad because I would rather have the two days than nothing, but it feels like a last-minute attempt,” Fischer said. “I’m not happy that they’re almost being forced to give them to us.”

Almost a month before the last day of the Spring 2021 semester, the UW-Eau Claire Chancellor’s Office sent an email to students on April 8, announcing that classes would be canceled on April 16 and 29.

The email said students in practica, clinicals, student teaching, lab classes and classes that only meet once a week would still be held on those two days. 

Some Blugolds say that they’re grateful but also frustrated by UW-Eau Claire’s announcement, since the decision was made late in the semester and didn’t provide professors with a significant amount of time to adjust their course schedules.

In the email from the Chancellor’s Office, university leaders said they’ve had to make new decisions and changes as the academic year progresses just like “many things related to the pandemic.”

“We know many are experiencing more stress as we juggle the pandemic, classes and other commitments,” the email said. “While we had planned to work through the semester, we’ve heard your concerns.”

Fischer said she had accepted that there wasn’t going to be a spring break this year, but she had hoped the university would give students wellness days early on in the semester.

“Another month went by, another month went by, and we still didn’t get anything,” Fischer said. “I just don’t think two days in the last month is sufficient.”

On the first wellness day last Friday, Fischer said she still had a 20-page paper due that day, so she didn’t get a break. 

Maddie Culhane, a fourth-year marketing student, said she will be busy during final weeks, working on group projects. However, now those last weeks have been made more stressful because of the wellness days.

“They’re taking away work days for those (group) projects — it’s not very wellness-y,” Culhane said. 

Students who normally don’t have classes on Thursdays and Fridays wouldn’t particularly benefit from the wellness days, which is why Lillian Griffin, a second-year sociology student, said she’s grateful that she does have classes canceled on those two days. 

“I actually was supposed to have an exam on that day and my professor moved it,” Griffin said. 

She understood why the university wanted to cancel spring break because they wanted to prevent students from traveling, but Griffin said she knew of students who still traveled anyway. 

Griffin predicted she was going to experience burnout, or mental and physical exhaustion, at some point in the semester, and she did. 

“There were way too many days where I didn’t have the emotional energy to go to class,” Griffin said. “I missed lots of classes, which made me more stressed.”

Paula Gilbeck, the interim director of university relations in the chancellor’s office, said toward the end of March, administrators and Student Senate began receiving an influx of complaints from students regarding how the cancellation of spring break was affecting their mental health.

Gilbeck said because of these complaints, Chancellor James C. Schmidt proposed the addition of wellness days to the semester during an emergency shared governance call April 7.

The shared governance bodies consist of deans, faculty and other UW-Eau Claire staff members. Gilbeck said forty or so members joined the call to share their thoughts on the proposal.

“They wanted to leave lab days intact,” she said. “Initially we wanted to schedule a Tuesday day off, but some (of the faculty) said that wouldn’t work for them … the proposal was made better by the shared governance group.”

Feedback from professors has been positive, Gilbeck said, because they know the decisions were made to benefit students.

However, Gilbeck said administrators are aware the circumstances surrounding this decision are not perfect.

“We understand it’s tough,” she said. “I’m sure faculty would have preferred a longer heads-up time, and we agree.”

The Spectator reached out to several UW-Eau Claire professors who had voiced negative opinions regarding the wellness days to some of their students, but received no responses.

While the university attempted to give students time away from virtual and in-person classrooms, Fischer said they ultimately feel like work days for assignments. 

“Students have been burned out already,” Fischer said. “I don’t think the university is doing enough to advocate for students’ mental health.”

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected]

Kopke can be reached at [email protected].