In response to the concern that students leaving campus during spring break would become vectors of spreading COVID-19, Gonzaga University has taken the step of canceling spring break for its students. This decision has generated controversy due to the fact that students will now be expected to work from January straight through May without a longer break.
After numerous attempts to meet with GU administration to ask for additional break time ended in failure, the Gonzaga Student Body Association (GSBA) Senate met two Mondays ago to draft a resolution that would urge GU to add two “reading days” to its calendar.
“The purpose of this resolution is to inform President [Thayne] McCulloh and Provost [Deena] González of the negative mental, physical and emotional implications of the current plans for the 2021 spring break,” said Braden Bell, one of the GSBA senators who drafted the resolution. “[The resolution aims] to urge an adjustment to the spring break semester schedule that acknowledges the detrimental nature of the current plan.”
The original plan — announced to all undergraduate students via email by Provost and Senior Vice President Deena González — pushes the start of the spring semester back one week to Jan. 19 while adding just one reading day to make up for the canceled break week.
The senate’s resolution comes in the midst of outrage from GU students who are upset that they will no longer be able to take time off during the four-month semester. Thanksgiving break was also indirectly axed by GU administration as students were recommended to leave campus for the rest of the semester if they wanted to travel to see their families during the break.
“In light of continued challenges related to COVID-19, and at the recommendation of the Academic Council, comprised of faculty, students and staff, I am pleased to approve the following revisions to the spring 2021 calendar,” González said in her Oct. 9 email. “Thanks to those who have helped in making the calendar modifications.”
The GSBA Senate, however, feels that González and the Academic Council are not listening to the voices of all Zags on campus. As representatives of GU students, they aim “to address student responses to the current schedule."
“Due to not collecting a reasonable amount of student input, this is a misrepresentation of the students’ needs and their academic success and their mental well-being,” said Jeffrey Goong, a senator who co-authored the resolution with Bell.
Part of the resolution addresses the overall health of students.
“Neither GSBA Senate nor any other representation of [the] student voice [who] suggests that the change to the 2021 spring calendar resulted in a student body who feared for their academic success and wellbeing in anticipation for the spring semester [were included in the decision-making],” said Bell, reading from Section 3 of the resolution.
The GSBA Senate bases its claims on a GSBA survey titled “Be Heard” that interviewed students on their reaction to the proposed change as well as their opinions of how plans for this current semester have been executed.
“We can see that this semester wasn’t entirely successful for a lot of faculty, staff and students,” Goong said, speaking to the Be Heard survey.
GU administration has turned down multiple requests from the GSBA Senate and fellow students to reconsider its plan for the spring semester. According to the senate, recent attempts to meet and discuss the plan have ended in the senate being turned away and told to draft a better plan of action.
However, González referenced the resolution in an email to the GU community sent out on Monday, regarding preparation for the spring semester.
"We have, however, heard from GSBA that a proposal for the spring 2021 calendar is coming forward and this will be given serious consideration," González said.
It is worth noting that the senate does not have access to the same knowledge and research of COVID-19 as GU administration does, nor are they in regular direct communication with the Spokane Regional Health District as GU administration is.
That said, the GSBA Senate is upset that its constituents’ voices are not being heard. It does recognize, however, that this resolution may be its last chance to get González and the rest of GU administration to change their minds.
“[On the] feeling about spring break in general, I would say that this might be one of our last-ditch efforts,” Bell said.
The resolution was passed unanimously by the senate and now awaits approval from Elango, from whom it will go to McCulloh and González.
Red Kwenda is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter:@redkwendawriter.