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Reading Week Forever

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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  • University of Guelph students in Vancouver with Project Serve, February 2015.

    University of Guelph students in Vancouver with Project Serve, February 2015.

Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

In the midst of the February blahs— with snowy, sleety Guelph weather and midterms casting a dull grey proverbial cloud over University of Guelph students— comes a glimmer in the darkness.

Reading week.

The importance of this break is contested by many, but appreciated by all. In the midst of the winter semester and the wrapping up of another school year (for some students, their very first) there can be a lot of stress in the last few months winding down. Prepping for exams, rounding out that GPA, and sorting out living arrangements can be scary no matter how many times you’ve done it before. Reading week tends to provide some respite, whether it’s to catch up on sleep, studies, or your social life.

A professor from the School of English and Theatre Studies who wished to remain unnamed offered some insight from an educator’s point of view on the necessity of a break, and the possibility of introducing a second ‘reading week’.

“I for one wouldn’t be opposed to a fall reading week. The winter Reading Week is a nice opportunity for students to get caught up on things, or to have a breather. I personally don’t believe in assigning work over the break, but that’s because I think that a lot of professors and students find that time nice to balance things out, to make sure they’re caught up but also to mentally prepare for the second half of the semester. I guess a longer Thanksgiving break is a good way to meet in the middle though.”

But many Canadian students have adopted the phrase ‘reading week’ as the Canuck version of ‘spring break’: Many youth and student targeted travel companies take advantage of teen movie clichés and overused college tropes to attract students to the idea of partying like crazy for a week and forgetting to hydrate, marketed as a good time with your fellow undergraduates. University of Guelph offers opportunities for involvement in humanitarian efforts or other volunteer work like Project Serve (which is currently hosting a student initiative in Vancouver) various Habitat for Humanity initiatives both in Canada and the US, and week-long conferences and other student based mobilization efforts.

Asia Barclay, a fourth year student who is participating in Project Serve's Vancouver initiative, thinks that the importance of these types of programs should be stressed to provide a simultaneously educational and volunteer experience where students otherwise may not have opportunities: "Initiatives like Project Serve give students the opportunity to participate in experiential learning. This type of educational framework can help foster a more informed society by giving students the tools to think critically and reflexively about the systems in which we participate. By structuring these programs over Reading Week, students are given a break from the classroom but are still engaged in their own growth. The program offers a good balance between work and leisure so that students have time to decompress in between our learning. It's a great way to spend your break and broaden your horizons!"

For many students, there is a huge disjoint between whether you can enjoy yourself, or whether you have to spend the week studying: at the University of Guelph, the midterm period tends to be rather spread out, in that there can be midterms almost anytime throughout the semester. Lifted directly from the 2014-2015 Undergraduate Calendar, Section VIII regarding Undergraduate Degree Regulations, Procedures and Examinations states that “Term tests must not be scheduled during the last five class days prior to the final examination period”, but makes no claims about the earliest possible scheduling of a midterm.

Chris Sora, a second year Economics and Finance Major raises a valid point regarding proper scheduling in order to fully take advantage of reading week: “I think it would be better if we had it before midterms were scheduled. Like I had four midterms the week before reading week, and now it’s kind of like ‘well, what’s the point of this?’ it’s really just a week break, why specifically call it a ‘reading’ week? It’s kind of ridiculous that we don’t get a fall one, since almost every other school does, but we also finish earlier than most people.”

There are plenty of arguments and rumors circulating about schools having multiple reading weeks, and recently the spotlight has been on improving the measures to ensure overall positivity for students mental health: the most pervasive pieces of gossip for this are Trent University and York University, and for years students have been claiming that the reason for having two reading weeks is a high rate of suicide among students.

Officially, of course, these are not the reasons cited for the fall breaks. But how much truth is there to the popular reasoning? Trent has had a fall break in place since 1964, and other universities like York, Ryerson and Brock are following suit, most of which are openly claiming that it is in fact a measure to protect the mental health of their students and ease the transitional phase from high school to university, which can at times overwhelm even the most prepared with a bit of university culture shock. After all, a majority of the first year population at any given university in Ontario is on average a mere 17 years old.

According to a recent article by VICE, suicide rates among American college students have almost doubled since the 1950’s, and after a string of student suicide-related deaths at Queen’s University in Kingston,  a study done by administration and student health service departments found that around four per cent of students had contemplated suicide in their previous semester. While four per cent seems small, consider that when this survey was completed, the population of full time undergraduate students was 16,339. Four per cent rounds out to 653 students, and that’s just undergraduates.

The University of Guelph recently made a small step towards adding a second reading week, with the introduction of an extra day of thanksgiving weekend in the Fall 2014 semester. Students had no classes scheduled on the Tuesday, and instead made up the class time for the holiday Monday and Tuesday on November 27 and 28, respectively.

But the beauty of Guelph’s scheduling strategy seems to be lost on some students: while most other schools are halfway through exams during the last few weeks of the winter semester, Guelph generally has concluded examinations and temporarily shut down residence buildings before most other universities, offering students an extra-long Christmas break. If a fall reading week is introduced, are we at risk of losing that extra week to deck the halls?

This question won’t be answered in the upcoming school year, considering the 2015-2016 Undergraduate Calendar was released in early February, and the schedule of dates includes the details of another extended thanksgiving weekend as opposed to a fall reading week.

Whether your reading week is meant for studying, relaxing, or partying, take advantage of the well-deserved break this year, Gryphons. If James Franco were Canadian, you can be sure the movie’s tagline would be “Reading week forever.”

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