The lost meaning of reading week

Reading week is supposed to be a time to get away from school. A chance to destress from class readings, lectures, essays and midterms. It’s supposed to be a time to put our minds at ease so we don’t feel as if our brains and our bodies are being overworked.

When Brock, among other universities, introduced the Fall Reading Week back in 2013, the underlying reasoning was the prevalence of mental illness among university students. They said this one extra week off was to allow students to get away from school, spend time with family and just come back with a clear-mind.

One of my professors said something a couple weeks ago that really stuck with me. He said he understood why our generation was so media-driven. He mentioned that having everything we need in one hand-held device for our generation is beneficial, because we are always on the move.

For some of us, we go from home to school to home to work, and not always in that order. Sometimes there’s multiple trips to school or home, and even a second job. Being constantly on the move gives our brains no chance to relax, even if a lot of what we need is in one hand-held device. We get so jam-packed with things going on in our lives that “destress” is word that disappears from our vocabulary.

There have been multiple studies showing that when students start to feel anxious and overworked, suicidal thoughts can start to occur. In a study by Queen’s University in 2013, it showed four per cent of students had suicidal thoughts and ten per cent had considered it at some point. In fact, suicide has been the leading cause of death for people aged 15-24 after car accidents for over ten years in Canada.

Therefore, an extra week off to go along with the two week Christmas break and the winter reading week makes sense. However, until you realize that both reading weeks aren’t really giving you a break from school, destressing is still not really an option for most students.

More importantly, if reading week is for students to take a break from school (and even catch up on class readings), why do some of us get stuck doing multiple assignments over the week?

Have you ever been in the situation where you have three assignments due the week after reading week? Most students would say “yes”. Then of course, come the midterms we have afterwards. Does this not defeat the entire purpose of reading week?

More notably, when reading week was introduced, especially in the fall, the schools tried to put an emphasis on mental health.

However, when students think of reading week, mental illness is not what comes to mind. In fact, it’s probably the last subject on anyone’s mind. Therefore, universities have failed to do what they said reading week was originally for.

It’s obvious that students are probably going to use the week off to procrastinate on their assignments and papers that are due the following week, so I guess we as students don’t have the right to complain, since we do that to ourselves.

But if this week was truly about getting students to work towards being in a better position mentally and academically, we have failed. If reading week is to lower the number of students who think and even consider suicide, should it not be made much clearer that the week is for us to reflect on ourselves and really become a healthier person before going back to school?

Maybe it needs to start with there being no assignments due the week after reading week. Maybe the week should be more about catching up with work, then worrying about what due dates are coming up.

More importantly, maybe students should be eased back into school following the reading week, because at times, the first day back to school can make a student say, “I’m screwed”.

So let’s really stop and reflect on what reading week is truly about. If it’s really for raising awareness about mental illness and what causes it, we should probably make that more clear. Also, to all the professors, how about not assigning assignments over reading week?

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