I ended this past weekend by going for coffee with a friend who’s been away at school. She goes to Trent University and is fortunate enough to be on her fall reading week. My younger brother, in his first year at the University of Ottawa, is also privileged with this period of respite from classes. Being bitter that I still had to attend classes this week (including a non-regular trip to campus on Wednesday), I decided I would look into what allows an institution to justify this extra reading week, as well as what actually needs to be done to make them possible.
Whenever I hear about a school with a fall reading period, I, like many of my peers, assume it was implemented due to high levels of stress among the student body, which resulted in higher rates of student suicide. This is the common urban myth, and in fact, the fall break has even acquired the nickname “suicide week.” In some cases, the myth may have some truth to it. Many schools have noted an increase in the use of their student counseling services during the month of November. Officially, February has been designated as Suicide Prevention Month (hence the traditional winter reading week in place), but it makes sense to offer students the same chance to unwind during the stress of November.
At the same time, the fall reading week is not always offered out of concern for students’ mental health. Trent University has had a fall reading period since 1964. While many still consider it to be “suicide week,” it’s actually a tradition shared with Oxford University, which splits the year into 4 6-week sessions. So why isn’t this tradition shared by every university? It appears that scheduling is one of the main problems behind the implementation of the week.
At the University of Ottawa, the addition of a fall reading week required that the university still maintain the same number of days for regular classes as well as the examination period. This essentially meant that they had to find days here and there to cut out of the calendar. This included Ottawa U Day as well as a few days during fall orientation. So, while my brother may have the week off, we still have the same number of days in the term.
Ryerson, who will have their first fall reading session next year, had to follow a similar rescheduling process as UOttawa. Their reasoning was that having that extra week off would help enrich the student experience. The question is, would this week actually contribute to the experience?
After experiencing undergraduate orientation for a second time, I would argue that losing orientation days might actually be a bad thing, at least for first-year students. Not to speak poorly of one school over another, but Carleton’s reading week seemed to have a great deal more substance to it in comparison to uOttawa’s. My brother took one look at the flyer for his orientation and immediately decided not to attend. Still, chopping a few days out of that period of time could put a major damper on the undergrad experience at some schools.
Coming from the viewpoint of a tired, procrastinating undergrad, the week would be a great opportunity to catch up on work (and sleep). It would be a chance to get back some of those hours that always seem to fill themselves with episodes of Supernatural instead of notes on the Irish in Quebec. Not sure whose fault that is, but I’m looking into it.
So, I guess you could say that the fall reading week is a double-edged sword. It might take away from certain aspects of student life, but at the same time gives us the opportunity to maintain our sanity and get a little rest. Either way, I’m still stuck without one, so I’m just going to have to suck it up. On the bright side, at least the express buses won’t be packed with students from the University of Ottawa. It’s the little things in life that count.
Let me know what you think of fall reading weeks here. Or leave a comment below!