SMU Faculty Senate Surveys Mental Health Effects of Breakless Semester

With the semester over halfway completed, the SMU Faculty Senate surveyed 582 professors on how the lack of rest days this fall has affected their mental health and that of their students.

“If you love what you do and you love your students [,] you find it within yourself to give it your best but it is definitely harder this year and more exhausting,” one professor in the anonymous survey wrote.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, SMU eliminated breaks this fall and will finish courses online after Thanksgiving. In a campus-wide email, President Turner noted that the lack of travel opportunities might have helped decrease coronavirus cases.

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“What we are doing this fall is working,” President Turner said. “It is encouraging to see the stamina, resilience and determination of our Mustang community in handling the challenges of this pandemic. It is with that same diligence that we’ll tackle 2021.”

Yet some faculty members reported concerns about their mental health with fewer breaks.

Nearly 48% of respondents said the lack of rest days this semester took a toll on their mental health. These faculty members selected 8, 9 and 10 (clearly agree to strongly agree) on a scale from 1 to 10.

Some professors said they see the same burnout in students.

58.6% of respondents added that the fall schedule took a toll on students’ mental health, and selected 8, 9, and 10 on the same 1 to 10 scale. SMU senior Mayra Muratalla agreed that the lack of breaks decreased her overall productivity.

“I actually find myself procrastinating more than I have in the past,” she said. “It feels like there is no room for errors to be made, which is the worst feeling ever and makes me doubt myself so much when I shouldn’t.”

Others said the schedule isn’t the problem, but the pandemic.

In the survey, 28% said they haven’t seen students struggle with their mental health because of the calendar, and 14% added that it hadn’t impacted their own mental health either. These faculty members selected 3 or lower (clear disagree to strongly disagree) on a scale from 1 to 10.

“This is what we need to do for the year [canceling breaks],” one professor in the anonymous survey said. “My mental health would be worse if I were worried about spikes due to student travel.”

But, a few professors said they saw students travel regardless.

“[M]any students are traveling anyway. Several of mine have flown places on weekends already,” another professor wrote. “People who aren’t worried about Covid, and it’s a large number, are just going to do what they want, no matter what – so we might as well help out the rest of the population by giving them some deserved rest times”

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Since the announcement, SMU opened up a suggestions box to address mental health concerns. Faculty can also reach out to the Employee Assistance Program.

As the semester continues, the SMU Faculty Senate and the Student Senate will work together to meet the SMU community’s needs during the pandemic.

“My heart goes out to all the students during this pandemic, and they should not hesitate to reach out,” Faculty Senate President Aurelie Thiele said. “We are always happy to talk to our students.”

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