Photo Credit: Maria Kotob, Photo Editor
Extension comes as a result of COVID-19 precautions and the toll on student mental health
Chiara Greco, Editor-in-Chief
On November 20, the University of Toronto (U of T) made the decision to extend winter break until January 11, 2021. This decision comes as a result of the growing anxieties and stress associated with COVID-19 and the needed break many students have been petitioning for.
In an email to U of T students, President Meric Gertler states that this extension is “prompted by the fact that we’ve all been under an extraordinary amount of stress for months now, because of the burdens imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In lieu of this, first-entry undergraduate division classes for the winter term semester will begin on January 11, as opposed to the originally scheduled January 4 return period. For graduate and professional programs, Gertler states that “the start date for winter term classes will vary.” As such, some programs may begin on the original January 4 return date out of necessity, while others will be shifted to the new January 11 date. According to Gertler, this discrepancy is “to ensure that students in these programs can complete their courses in a timely manner as planned.”
The fall semester exam period will remain as scheduled, with the university officially closing on December 23 and reopening on January 4, as originally planned. In this regard, Gertler states that “the shift of the start date for classes involves enormous administrative complexities, meaning that [U of T] staff-appointed employees will still be needed to return to work on Monday, January 4.”
In a following message, Arts and Science Dean Melanie Woodin clarifies that, “the end of [the winter term for undergraduate students] will remain April 30, 2021. February Reading Week will also remain as planned from February 15-19, 2021.”
Woodin also clarifies that undergraduate course delivery for the winter term will be shifted to an entirely online delivery, with exception of essential in-person courses. Essential in-person courses include lab-based course instruction, music and practical instruction, learning that requires hands-on activity, and practical training for health professions. All other Faculty of Arts and Science courses that were originally dual delivery will be shifted to online methods, as per health restrictions implemented by the City of Toronto.
Woodin also expresses similar sentiments to Gertler stating that, “delaying the start of classes in January will help alleviate the strain on our city and the spread of COVID and will provide an extended break for our community.”
This decision also comes at a time when U of T students are weighing the safety risks of whether or not they should return back home for the holiday break or remain in Toronto. For many students, returning home during this time is just not an option.
“While I am happy that the University decided to move forward with extending our winter break, it is a bittersweet moment. Due to the current lockdown and health concerns because of COVID, I won’t be able to travel back home to spend the holidays with my family which is really unfortunate,” a third year-student at St. Michael’s College told The Mike.
Another student expressed a similar sentiment to The Mike stating that, “this break is much-needed; a lot of students have been circulating petitions for it, so it feels right that this extension is happening. I think it will be a much-needed mental break from a lot of the stress online classes give.”
Gertler also acknowledges the mental health toll this pandemic has had on students and maintains that U of T is, “also continuing to implement the redesign of student mental health services that [they] announced this past January. While [they] have made considerable progress on that front, the work is continuing, and completing the full redesign remains a top priority. [They] are committed to doing everything [they] can to support [our] wellness and academic success, as we make our way together through this historic time.”
In regard to the redesign of student mental health services that Gertler mentions, on November 23, U of T launched a new website pertaining to student mental health, which outlines all services currently offered by the University. The website includes easy access to the tools that U of T offers, ranging from mental well-being tools to urgent crisis tools.
The launch of this website comes at a time when U of T is experiencing a crisis in mental health initiatives and protection for students across the university’s tri-campus community. In terms of this, the website offers a hub of tools, strategies, and experts to meet the needs of U of T students. While this website, along with the extended break, do acknowledge the current mental health concerns from students, others across the university are calling for a stronger commitment to these challenges.