Editor’s Note 04/04/21 at 10:38 p.m.: This article has been edited to correct an accidental omission. The article previously stated that Thais Carrillo ’23 felt that skipping class did solve the problem. It has now been corrected to note that she stated the opposite.
Editor’s Note 04/09/21 at 8:31 p.m.: This article has been updated to indicate that Professor Kong co-teaches her canceled class with Professor Thompson.
This semester’s academic calendar designated two days for spring break, rather than the traditional two weeks, leading many students and professors to extend the break themselves.
A letter circulated among students and staff on March 18 announcing a “Mental Health Strike,” encouraging those who participated to extend their spring break themselves to the entire week by not returning to class on Wednesday. The letter began circulating on an anonymous Instagram page titled “BrunswickIdea.”
“The Bowdoin community is struggling and going through a mental health crisis. We demand a longer break in order to adequately rest in the face of the pandemic and in recognition of the fact that this semester is NOT NORMAL,” state the letter that was signed by 184 students.
Aminata Harley ’23, a student who signed the letter, highlighted how she felt unsupported by the college thus far this semester and thought students deserved a longer break.
“I think Bowdoin has created an unhealthy culture regarding working and people are forgetting how taxing this year has been to all of us. We’re not students first, we’re people and have to take care of ourselves,” Harley said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Similarly, Thais Carrillo ’23, shared similar sentiments but felt that skipping class did not solve the problem.
“I’ve been struggling this semester, and have missed some classes already so I wasn’t very comfortable striking because of certain limits on classes you could miss, which is difficult to deal with. One of my professors cancelled class and that helped a lot,” Carrillo said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Even with her reservations, Carrillo also signed the petition to show support.
Senior Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs Jennifer Scanlon acknowledged that she was aware of the letter and addressed faculty about it at one of their monthly meetings.
“I thought it was really important that I spoke about it at the faculty meeting, [explaining it to] faculty who I believe have been exercising a tremendous amount of flexibility this semester,” Scanlon said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Similarly, the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) sent out a campus-wide email on March 19, echoing the letter’s frustration with the College’s actions.
“We’re stressed, disappointed, exhausted, and, quite frankly, fed up. We’re students too, and we know how draining this semester has been and how frustrating it is that we don’t have a real break this year,” the BSG wrote in an email to the student body. “As the BSG we’ve reached out to the administration and faculty about extending the break as well as alleviating workload to help general stress levels on campus. Our efforts haven’t been met with an adequate response, but our work has also been lacking.”
BSG President Marcus Williams ‘21 said that the email was intended to facilitate transparency and communication within the student body after BSG had been discussing the break issue at length.
“I think a lot of times people think that the student government doesn’t try to do things, and so we had to say that, ‘no, we’re actively on your side when we’re doing our best to support all of us by any way we can,’” Williams in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “So, we wanted to be transparent, especially about how we feel and that we tried [to do something].”
Organizing any formal demonstration beforehand proved challenging, so striking seem like the most feasible option.
“It was difficult to do any sort of event or public demonstration because of COVID[-19] guidelines and overall exhaustion of [students], so when the break finally came, it was much-needed time for students to just catch up with themselves,” said Williams. “I offered to help organize logistically but it was not feasible.”
Some professors took issue with the shortened break, especially considering their own work.
“My two classes are broken into smaller sections … some meet on Monday or Tuesday, and others later in the week. Since the break only cancelled a few of the sections, it only felt fair to cancel the others,” Belinda Kong, John F. and Dorothy H. Magee Associate Professor of Asian Studies and English, said.
Ayodeji Ogunnaike, associate professor of Africana Studies, explained that he’s had to be flexible since he began at the College in the fall of 2019, just before the pandemic started.
“At least for me personally, I did think that this semester was going to be a bit more of a marathon, especially since we weren’t going to have any more breaks in it.” Ogunnaike said. “I wanted to make sure that [we were] a bit more laid-back at certain points, just because I knew it was going to be a wild one. Being on the edge all the time was clearly not going to work for anybody—for me, or for students.”
Dean Scanlon said she also appreciated student feedback regarding courses and matters in which her office could directly intervene.
“If we heard that an individual faculty member scheduled an exam during the break or something like that, an associate dean reached out to those individual faculty members to have conversations,” Scanlon said.
Kong canceled both of her classes that week, including her seminar that is co-taught with Associate Professor of English Hilary Thompson, while Ogunnaike canceled one of his courses and adjusted assignments for the other. Both stressed their appreciation for direct student feedback regarding workload and mental health.
“If I feel like a class is comfortable with me, then they will tell me, ‘okay, we’re struggling here,’ and I always am receptive to that,” Kong said. “But when there’s a slightly larger class and people don’t feel comfortable with each other, it’s hard to gauge how they’re doing, especially over Zoom. Sometimes, they’d bring up an article in the Orient or an editorial asking if I read it to help highlight issues which I’ve also appreciated.”