UBC implements first fall reading break after years of student campaigning about mental health concerns

·3 min read
UBC's student society reports the highest traffic for university counselling services has historically occurred in October and November.  (Shutterstock / Tero Vesalainen - image credit)
UBC's student society reports the highest traffic for university counselling services has historically occurred in October and November. (Shutterstock / Tero Vesalainen - image credit)

After years of advocacy from students over concerns about mental health, the University of British Columbia is implementing a three-day fall reading break for the first time this year, from Nov. 10 to 12.

None of the 11 public universities in B.C. break for a full week in November, despite most offering a full reading week during the winter semester, typically in February.

Elsewhere in Canada, students at several institutions — including the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta — are given a full reading week during the fall.

UBC was one of the few major post-secondary institutions in Canada without such a break, according to the university's Alma Mater Society (AMS).

Kin Lo, associate professor at the Sauder School of Business and chair of the UBC senate's academic policy committee, says there has long been demand for such a break, primarily for mental health reasons.

"Coursework at an institution like UBC can be demanding … [a reading break] may be a time to take a break from studying altogether and relax the brain a little bit," said Lo.

Cole Evans, president of UBC's Alma Mater Society, says the pressure of the fall semester can take a toll, particularly in November after a period that is heavy with mid-terms and assignments.

The highest traffic for university counselling services has historically occurred in October and November, according to a 2019 report from the AMS.

The break will fall over Remembrance Day, with students getting an additional two weekdays off. UBC made the break possible by shortening the exam period from 16 to 12 days.

"This has been a long time coming," said Evans.

Michael Lee, an expert in student mental health and professor at UBC's department of occupational science and therapy, says a fall reading break can improve campus well-being if implemented properly. Lee said many students experience weather-related mental health challenges, particularly in climates like B.C.'s.

Lee said post-secondary success requires well-being in all aspects of life, including the non-academic aspects, which a term break could help with.

"Students do have a life outside of campus as well. They have other commitments that they need to address," said Lee.

However, Lee also noted that a fall reading week could potentially be isolating for some students, particularly international students who might not yet have a strong social network.

Lee recommended that universities provide students the opportunity to socialize and engage in their community during such a break.

"It is important for us as faculty and university administrators to look at well-being from a holistic perspective."

Lo said while a week-long break could be considered in the future, he does not foresee it happening in the next few years.

Capilano University has provided a single-day fall break since 2018. Daniel Levangie, associate vice president of student success, said the university is in discussion about extending the break to three days.

"Students really look for some kind of a break, especially mid-November. It's the rainiest most miserable month, it's the trickiest one in terms of transitioning between midterms and finals."

The University of Victoria also has a three-day reading break in November. Karen Johnston, associate director of public affairs, said the break has been "crucial for mental health and wellness."

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