Proposal for fall break is under President Nikias’ review

The Undergraduate Student Government has spent three years attempting to implement a fall break into the academic calendar. In April, USG presented evidence supporting the mental health benefits students would reap from a fall break to the Academic Senate, which unanimously voted in favor of the proposal.

Steven Kramer | Daily Trojan

The proposal will be presented to President C. L.  Max Nikias, Provost Michael Quick, Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry and Director of Campus Activities Gabriel Valenzuela. If it passes, the University will add a two-day break to the academic calendar beginning in Fall 2018.

Although the initial proposal by USG suggests placing the break on the eighth week of fall semester, USG President Austin Dunn and USG Director of Wellness Affairs Mariana Hrovat both said that a date will not be finalized until senior administrators make their final decision. The break could fall between the eighth and 10th week of the semester, according to Dunn and Hrovat.

In previous years, the resolution failed due to the lack of evidence proving the positive impacts the fall break. Paula Cannon, who previously served as president of the Academic Senate, has served on the Senate each time the break was proposed. She believes that fall break resolutions failed because of the way they were presented to senior administrators.

“The Undergraduate Student Government officers didn’t do a very good job of pitching it to the faculty,” Cannon said. “Although I feel like I understood the points they were making about mental health issues, I felt that their arguments weren’t resonating with the faculty in the room.”

According to Cannon, a good deal of past hesitation resided in the belief that students would take advantage of the break in other forms, like taking vacations and partying, instead of focusing on restoring their mental health.

The University’s fall semester has 56 continuous instructional days — the most of any top-25 school in the nation, according to the USG proposal. USG worked with Ilene Rosenstein, director of counseling and psychological services at the USC Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity, and the Engemann Student Health Center to evaluate the Behavioral Health Measure of students who visited the counseling center during fall semesters from 2012 to 2016.

The BHM is a self-report that assesses students’ mental health and general psychological distress on a four-point scale. A low BHM score signifies more distress in students.

“[It is considered] a psychological issue, problem, diagnosis or psychopathy with a BHM hitting in at about 2.5,” Hrovat said. “When we were looking at the average BHM scores on students during the middle of fall semester, it was at a 2.6.”

Along with consulting with the health center, last year’s USG President, Edwin Saucedo, and then-USG Vice President Austin Dunn conducted forums with Nikias and Quick to solidify a proper resolution.

“Having discussion after discussion, asking as many questions as possible, and receiving as much faculty, staff and student input as possible allowed us to really put in the work to find the research for the proposal,” Dunn said.

Though the final decision will come down to Nikias and Quick, Dunn said he is optimistic about a fall break being implemented in the near future.

“At this point it really is in the hands of President Nikias and Provost Quick, and even they seem on board with it, so I think now it’s just a matter of finalizing all the details to get it enacted,” Dunn said.

USG has not been informed when the administration will release their decision.

The Office of the President could not be reached for comment.