When I began studying at Queen’s, fall reading week was something given only to the magical lands of Laurentian and the University of Ottawa, and well, they seemed really far away, so it was understandable.
Yet, when I started hearing about friends at University of Toronto and McMaster getting four-day weekends in lieu of an actual week, I started to feel royally ticked off.
And now that close to every school in Ontario (Waterloo is the only notable exception) has a full week, or at the very least two extra days off, I’m left with one question — how can Queen’s have nothing?
At first, the notion seemed silly. There has never been a reading week in the fall, so why should it start now?
Yet during a conversation with my housemate, Roisin Donohue, ArtSci ’15, she raised the really important point: “Do I somehow have less work in first semester than second?”
If you were a Queen’s English student when Professor Elizabeth Hanson first started teaching thirty years ago, you might have had a lighter course load in the fall.
As Hanson told our class, “The course work used to not be symmetrical. She explained that when she`first started teaching, all the courses she taught were year-long. This meant there weren’t any December exams and only one fall paper.
All of the big assessments came in March and April of second semester, making a reading week then a necessity.
And yet as our course system adapted — the majority of second- to fourth-year courses are now only half-year — somehow our system did not change to match up.
And students are suffering for it.
When I asked Facebook friends their opinion on the addition of a reading week or a longer Thanksgiving weekend, the overwhelming majority said even those few extra days would ease stress levels considerably.
Someone even commented on the student morale and mental health benefits a break would allow. Sure, for people living in the GTA, it’s not really a problem — heading home for a weekend is not unheard of.
But for a school that boasts 95 per cent of its student population coming from outside of Kingston, it’s a real issue.
For students travelling back to London, much less Alberta or British Columbia, the travel time is so long it’s almost not worth it, given the time we’re allotted for Thanksgiving.
For many students, it’s a choice between skipping three or four class days to make the trip worthwhile, or not making it home at all.
There are also the financial and time burdens to consider. But it’s not just the distance — mental health is a concern too. The year before I began here as a student, Queen’s had a record number of six student deaths occur, three of which were reported as suicides. In response, there was speculation Queen’s would implement another reading week.
And yet somehow, four years later, nothing has been done.
I do commend the strong surge of mental health awareness initiatives that have cropped up on campus in my time here, such as The Jack Project and the Mental Health Awareness Committee.
But the lack of any clear tangible change to try and relieve student pressure and stress at an institutional level is absolutely unacceptable.
Do I feel that having those extra days or a reading week would have been the magical solution to prevent these deaths from occurring? Probably not.
But it certainly couldn’t hurt to consider implementing a fall reading week or long Thanksgiving weekend to help prevent other students from suffering the same tragic fate.
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