Around this time of year, students are drowning in a sea of midterms and papers. Desperate for a respite, the only break students can look forward to is a two-day fall break in November. While other institutions and campuses like Ryerson, UTM, and UTSC have instituted a fall reading week, the St. George campus currently has no week-long break in the fall semester. But we can change this.
Beginning this week, Arts and Science students will be voting in a joint referendum held by the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The goal is to see if they approve of restructuring Orientation Week, in order to make room in the academic calendar for a Fall Reading Week. If approved, we can lobby for a change that would see Orientation Week moved up one week and a reading week established in late October or early November.
Classes, as a result, would start earlier in the year. This follows a similar change made to the orientation weeks at the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses. Unfortunately, fall reading week cannot be created without making this compromise, as the academic calendar is already extremely constrained with a limited amount of teaching days available.
Creating a Fall Reading Week would be beneficial because at U of T, students are burdened with a heavy course load, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and the stresses of being a student. We all need a breather because most students of U of T are overworked and stressed. The university has a major problem when it comes to tackling mental health.
Simcoe Hall has committed itself to making the university a more accessible and mental health friendly institution, as outlined in the 2014 Provostial Advisory Committee Report on Mental Health. Students continue to complain about the learning experience, the isolation they feel and about the direct services the university provides for counseling and accessibility. Mental health is not an individual issue, it is one that is exacerbated by systemic inequalities. Creating a Fall Reading Week is the first step to taking a systems-based approach to mental health. It is the first step in what must be a comprehensive plan to make the university more mental health friendly. A fall reading week would allow students to take a much-needed break, get away from the city and reconnect with family and friends.
Other than the clear benefits to mental health, there are also pedagogical benefits to having a Fall Reading Week. Not only would this ease the burden on students for handing in essays and studying for midterms, but the week presents an opportunity for further learning and growth. At present, in the winter reading week, students often go abroad with professors to partake in intensive courses, and the Centre for Community Partnerships offers students the ability to volunteer for a week through Alternative Reading Week. Many student unions and clubs also offer travel opportunities and day trips that students can take advantage of. These initiatives can be replicated in the fall term as well, allowing students to take advantage of and benefit from a greater number of opportunities.
Fall Reading Week is something students have called for over the years. UTSC got it first, now UTM has it, and it is high time that the students in the Faculty of Arts and Science at the St. George campus get one as well. While it is not the only solution to the systemic mental health problems at this institution, we believe a Fall Reading Week is the step in the right direction.
But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we think. Orientation week is student-run and students must show that they approve of moving it forward, before we can even think about lobbying for a Fall Reading Week. Above all, we ask you to voice your opinion and vote in this important referendum.
You can vote from Oct 27th – 29th on utsu.simplyvoting.com.
Abdullah Shihipar is the president of the Arts and Science Students’ Union. Ben Coleman is the President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union. Vere-Marie Khan is the Vice-President University Affairs of the University of Toronto Students’ Union.