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Duke adds a two-day break and wellness day to spring semester, pushes back LDOC

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UPDATE: This article was updated at 6 p.m. Thursday with information from emails publicly announcing the changes. It was updated at 3:18 p.m. Thursday with information from Gary Bennett about the wellness day.

The spring 2021 academic calendar now includes a two-day break from class and one wellness day on which faculty are encouraged not to cover coursework.

The two-day break occurs from Tuesday, March 9 to Wednesday, March 10, and the wellness day is scheduled for Monday, April 12. The last day of classes has been pushed back by two days, from April 21 to April 23, notes Thursday afternoon's Duke Student Government email newsletter to students, by senior and DSG President Tommy Hessel, which publicly announced the changes.

Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education; Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs; and Executive Vice Provost Jennifer Francis sent their own message about the changes Thursday afternoon.

"During one of the toughest semesters on record, your grit and resilience have been inspiring. We are truly proud of your collective efforts and hard work," they wrote to undergraduates. "At the same time, we know that this effort has been physically and emotionally taxing. We have heard your feedback around the need for some opportunity to pause and recover in a condensed semester." 

March 9 and 10 will be "traditional break days" with no classes and no assignments due, they wrote. 

"On Wellness Day, faculty will be encouraged to set aside coursework so that students can engage in activities to enhance their wellbeing. We are working with campus experts to develop Wellness Day activities that are consistent with our ongoing focus on community health and safety. We will provide more guidance about Wellness Day once the spring semester begins," they wrote. 

The wellness day will not be an official day off, Bennett wrote in a Friday morning email to The Chronicle, but faculty will be encouraged "to suggest that students participate in wellness activities, in lieu of coursework."

"We've already heard strong support for this idea, including among many of our faculty leaders," Bennett wrote

The planned breaks in spring 2021 contrast the lack of breaks in the current semester and initial plans for the spring that did not include a break. The condensed schedules aimed to “maximize our time on campus, and to minimize the disruptions and potential health hazards of travel during the semester,” President Vincent Price wrote in a May message to the community announcing preliminary plans for the 2020-21 academic year. 

Students have said that the condensed fall semester has affected their mental health, and the Duke Student Government passed a resolution in August calling on faculty to build in one or two days off into their fall semester class schedules and refrain from making major assignments due Nov. 3 or Nov. 4 because of the election.

"Please know that these changes are a direct result of the student body and DSG’s advocacy; your efforts and input continue to be essential to University plans at this most unusual time," Bennett, McMahon and Francis wrote.

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