If it seems like the semester has flown by, that’s because it has. Just last year, students would be getting ready for round two of midterms after finally settling into something resembling a stable routine. Instead, students face only two weeks left in the semester, and many of us have turned our attention towards the much-needed break.
Calls for a break during this hectic semester have been well-documented. Colleges across the nation, Duke included, have forgone the traditional fall break schedule and elongated their winter breaks instead. Many of us are looking forward to this period to slow down, catch our breath, and finally get some rest. Beyond the initial wave of relaxation, though, we don’t know how to spend the two months that Duke wedged between the fall and spring semesters.
In any other year, the answer would be simple: traveling to visit family, vacationing to someplace warmer or much colder and hopping from one friends’ home to another are among some of the most favored winter break activities for Duke students. Sadly, this isn’t a normal year, and students should avoid unnecessary travel at all costs.
We understand that a long semester cooped up in an apartment or single dorm room has made many students stir-crazy. Switching things up has never been more imperative. The monotony of routine has made the appeal of seeing each other skyrocket. However, everything about the current moment begs us to limit those interactions.
Duke’s guidelines limiting student travel outside of the Durham area furthers the isolation that the student body feels. Signing the Duke Compact and agreeing to its expectations meant putting community wellbeing over individual interests. As a result, many of us have not been connected to the support systems that we normally use to get through a hectic semester; this has made us eager to reunite with our loved ones around the country. However, the pandemic is far from over.
The Duke bubble has insulated many of us from the reality beyond Duke’s walls. Frequent testing, relatively low case counts, and the investment of millions of dollars have desensitized all of us to the pandemic outside of Duke’s jurisdiction. In late October, the United States hit a new high of reported Covid-19 cases. North Carolina is seeing a spike in cases as well. Adding to the dismal numbers is the lack of a statewide shutdown—reminiscent to the one imposed in March. Although some members of the Durham community have been behaving as if the pandemic has slowed, all evidence points to the opposite conclusion.
Traveling, especially for leisure, ranks as one of the worst ways to spend the upcoming break. Not only are you putting yourself at risk, without specific quarantine guidelines from Duke’s COVID-19 Response Team, you may be putting your fellow students at risk upon your return. All it takes is one trip taken in the name of fun to make the people you care about catch the virus.
Most, if not all, Duke students should stay home for the break. But what then? Duke students rarely face two months of uninterrupted downtime. Many of us will choose to do something productive. This semester demanded that students work nearly non-stop to accomplish all of the work set out by professors and extra-curricular activities. It also reinforced the notion that students must spend their time effectively or let it go to waste. Being Duke students, this mindset will likely carry over into the break; and there is no shortage of ways to be productive for two months.
No matter where you are in your Duke journey, there are things to do. If you’re a first-year, you could spend this break locking down your coding skills to prepare for your inevitable computer science minor. Sophomores may spend the break mapping out the best combination of a competitive major and a high GPA. Juniors will end up searching for something to do with their summer in light of a worsening pandemic. If you’re a senior, you’ll probably spend this break applying to post-grad positions or studying for your next round of entrance exams.
We urge everyone to throw this desire for productivity out of the window. Although the pandemic is far from over, the return to normalcy is well underway. Restaurants and gyms are opening up, larger gatherings are being held, and people—for whatever reason—feel the need to continue to be productive.
Productivity is the worst mindset to have right now, especially going into a period allocated for rest. The pandemic has caused a mental health crisis among college students. We are tired, anxious, and depressed. Despite that, the adult world continues to demand our full attention and active participation. Whether it be improving our marketable skills, gaining employment, or being accepted into a graduate school, the markers of life without a pandemic have returned.
Normalcy, though, is not what we need at this moment. If it seems counterproductive to say do nothing over the break, that’s the point. There is no guarantee that the spring semester will be better on us than the fall has been. A two-month hiatus from the grind mindset that persists on campus is what the doctor has ordered for all of us. We urge that you take the doctor’s orders.
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The Community Editorial Board is independent from the editorial staff of the Chronicle. Their column usually runs on alternate Mondays.