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Columns

Feldman ’15: Giving thanks while giving students a break

By
Opinions Columnist

Thanksgiving is a federal holiday: The government closes, mail delivery halts and schools recess for the day. But to travel and prepare for the holiday, more than a single day must be given off. University students need a break to cushion the holiday. Currently, Brown students do not have classes canceled until the preceding Wednesday at noon. The University remains closed on Thursday and Friday but resumes again on Monday. Just two and a half days off isn’t sufficient — the University should close for the entire week of Thanksgiving.

Brown’s current system makes it extremely difficult for students to return home for the holiday. Including transportation time, students are expected to leave Brown Wednesday afternoon sometime after class and return within four days. Unless the student lives extremely close to Brown, it becomes economically and logistically impractical to return home. Trains, buses and planes all take a fair amount of time — something Brown does not provide much of.

The impracticality of returning home puts disproportionate emotional and financial stress on students from lower socioeconomic classes. For students who don’t live in New England, a trip home for the long weekend can cost hundreds of dollars. No one wants to pay that kind of price just for transportation. Exorbitant prices may annoy some students, but if they can afford the fee, they will grudgingly pay the price. But lacking that kind of financial flexibility, some students without family in the area are left stranded on campus.

Scheduling transportation months ahead of time is one of the few ways to minimize prices, but that’s extremely difficult to do before students finalize their class schedules. While extending the break would not pay anyone’s train fare, providing the flexibility would allow students to plan their travel months ahead of time because their class schedules wouldn’t be as important. Students wouldn’t have to try to leave during the middle of the week and risk missing class. They could wait to leave during the weekend because there would still be time to return home. Not only would this increase the value of a ticket home by increasing the length of stay, it would also come at a smaller price.

With the current system, students unable to schedule far in advance often have to leave a couple of days before or after Thanksgiving, regardless of whether they have class. As long as there isn’t a major exam or test scheduled the day before Thanksgiving — something professors usually avoid — the incentives to leave school a bit early to maximize time at home often far outweigh the incentive of attending class.

This system challenges students, demanding that they prioritize school over going home to visit their families. The “good” students remain at school until each of their classes finishes, while the “bad” students cut class. This generalization unfairly characterizes students. It’s not as if they are just using the pending break to have an extended vacation. They are using the break to go home and see family and friends who helped shape the personalities and identities that the Admission Office initially accepted.

Rather than make it more difficult for students to maintain these connections, the school should foster these relationships, which can go a long way toward strengthening mental health and happiness.

Furthermore, having a large number of students skipping class depreciates the value of class attendance. Through an uncompromising schedule, the University sends the message that classes will occur regardless of students actually being in them. The school places the burden on the students to decide between prioritizing their education or family. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to plan a schedule that accommodates students?

It is in the University’s best interest to educate students as much as possible and to encourage them to do well in their coursework. Ignoring low attendance rates in the days immediately leading up to Thanksgiving is exactly what the school should not be doing. Choosing not to cancel classes implies that the University cares more about the quantity of classes held per semester than the actual quality of each class.

By the end of November, students could simply use a significant break. It’s not a sign of laziness that students want the time to go home and be with their families. It’s a sign that students are under constant demands and might need a full week in their own beds to recover, which could maximize their productivity back at school. While some might argue that an entire week of break creates a discontinuous education, it really just gives students more time to review material and get a head start studying for finals, all with the luxury of being able to do so wherever they please.

Stretching Thanksgiving break to the entire week is a minuscule request that can yield large benefits for students. By leaving Brown two and a half days earlier, students could effectively double the size of their break from a brief respite to an actual vacation and increase the value of that break. I am not even suggesting taking the Monday after Thanksgiving off — though I personally grew up in the Pennsylvania public school system, where I thoroughly enjoyed having Monday off for the start of deer hunting season. Rather than asking to extend the break as a somewhat outdated way to control the deer population, I am requesting a novel approach to better serving Brown’s student body.

 

 

Over Thanksgiving, Andrew Feldman ’15 can only be briefly reached at home through emails addressed to andrew_feldman@brown.edu or tweets @Amfeldz.

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