One Class Blog

Abby Diebold | Swarthmore College

Every week or so, on bulletin boards in the dining hall and posts in the Facebook page, one of our campus student groups advertises an event. Sometimes they have a purpose (education about a topic, voter registration); sometimes they’re simply an excuse to spend the College’s money on Insomnia Cookies and pizza. The ubiquitous, catch-all term for these events? Study breaks.

My freshman fall, I was thrilled by this new collegiate phenomenon. The Green Advisors are giving out smoothies? There’s mochi in the Lang Center? I’m there. I planned my week around study breaks, carefully writing the group, the time, and, most importantly, the food, into my planner every time I saw a flyer.

Slowly, though, the “study break” crept into other parts of my vernacular. My friends and I would discuss meeting for “study breaks” at Essie’s, our on-campus snack bar, or having tea in someone’s room as a “study break.” It didn’t matter that these events were almost always past 10 PM, past when we could have been in any way productive with our studying. They were study breaks – that was what we called them.

I began to feel the implications of the term. If every event was a study break, it meant everything else was studying – it meant your day was sleep, eat, study, study break, study, study, study. We were never allowed to attend an event because we wanted to, because we were done for the day, because we were taking a night off. We were only ever allowed breaks.

This idea, that students exist in a constant cycle of studying, has permeated the way we talk about college. Recently, my college redesigned a student space, that had previously been referred to as the student lounge. The function? To make it a more acceptable co-working space. The administration wanted to give us more places to study.

If every event was a study break, it meant everything else was studying -- it meant your day was sleep, eat, study, study break, study, study, study.

We are at college to study, and to learn – I’m not denying that. But we’re also at college to be curious, to inquire, to innovate, to become constructive citizens, to find ways to contribute to the world outside of the ivory tower bubble. And yet we are only given spaces to study. We are shuttled from a library to a “but it’s not a library!” alternative study space to a classroom and back again, day in and day out, and nobody attempts to challenge the cycle. Nobody is the voice to tell you that yes, your sleep is more important than your readings and yes, you should go to the talk or the rally or the protest even if it’s three fewer hours of studying because you are also here to be a person.

So here it is: my public call to end the study break. I am not suggesting (god forbid) that we have less mochi or fewer cookies on campus. Instead, I want us to have a serious conversation about what mental health on college campuses looks like and, more importantly, what it should look like. Students deserve better than a five-minute walk for a sweet treat and the overhanging implication – “you’re going back to study now, right?” We need actual mental health support, honest conversations about the challenges college students face, and a redirection of resources towards ensuring students are given the tools to succeed. That’s what caring about students looks like – not a study break. 

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