As the Wesleyan student body returns to begin the grueling college grind once again, the ubiquitous “how was your break” conversation ensures that winter break is on everyone’s mind. Whether you despise them or enjoy them, “how was your break” chats almost always involve one party lamenting over the unnecessary length of the break, and how much they wanted to return to school. The frequency with which this complaint arises marks it as important, and raises the question: “Why IS break so long?”
While many other schools offer a reasonable amount of time off, Wesleyan just throws week after week of break in our faces until we inevitably come crawling back, begging for the sweet, sweet ambrosia that is college. While I’m sure most of us are ecstatic when winter break finally rolls around after the hell that that is Thanksgiving to finals period, you can really only binge-watch so much of Netflix’s “You” before you start to miss the euphoria of receiving 20 automated Wesleyan emails a day. In order to combat the problems of a long winter break—while also retaining the benefits its length gives to some students—the last week of the holiday recess should be replaced by an optional period, called Symposium Week, in which students can choose to come into school and teach hour-long classes to other students on areas they are passionate about.
This idea, based on Reed College’s student-led festival of learning, Paideia, would be a low-cost way to help reduce the social isolation and situational discomfort that some students feel over the break, and would encourage passionate discussion on topics not covered by regular classes without forcing students with internships or jobs to cut their work short. Additionally, some students face housing insecurity, food insecurity, and familial issues over winter break, so returning to campus would also serve a more important purpose than reducing boredom. For those who are dissatisfied with winter break, Symposium Week would provide an exciting alternative to the problems that people can face away from school.
If there were a Symposium Week, the University would open housing during the last week of break so that students could spend the week teaching and taking 80-minute-long classes. Presumably, there would be a few dozen courses offered at overlapping times so that students would be able to choose which symposium interested them the most. This system would allow students to learn about and discuss topics that are either not covered in traditional academia or not suited to a semester-long class. Such classes would be perfectly in line with Wesleyan’s liberal arts ethos, as the short length of classes, combined with the plethora of courses offered, would allow students to take courses in areas that they may be interested in, but cannot dedicate an entire semester to pursue. This would help contribute to the well-rounded education that the University markets as one of its core values.
Not only would a system of student-led classes contribute to the passion for learning that Wesleyan seeks to instill, but it would also be much more cost-efficient and convenient than simply starting the spring semester a week earlier, as some winter-break haters suggest. As Symposium Week would be optional, students with internships or jobs during the break could continue their work, without being forced back to campus in order to accommodate students who wish to return early. This means that the University would have to serve a lower number of students than it usually does, allowing it to operate on a smaller and less expensive scale. Additionally, since students would be teaching the classes, the school wouldn’t have to pay professors, further reducing its expenses.
In addition to helping students feel less isolated over the winter break and helping them learn about a variety of different subjects, Symposium Week’s accessibility would make it easy for those with non-institutionalized ideas to share those ideas. As those in academia often focus on a certain set of ideas, there are always other strains of thought, usually those which go against the status quo, which are excluded. By allowing those with radical and oppressed ideas to present those ideas to their fellow students, Symposium Week would allow for the dissemination of views which are often overlooked, providing students with an alternative to the ideas which are commonly espoused in academic and popular culture.
Daniel Knopf is a member of the class of 2022. Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.