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Tuesday, December 07, 2021
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Column: Spring Break in Indy? UW offers mixed messages regarding off-campus travel

You can’t have it both ways, UW. 

In early September, UW Madison’s Faculty Senate voted to cancel the school’s 2021 spring break. According to the proposal document, school officials made this decision “amid concerns that a typical spring break, when many travel far and wide, would result in an unmanageable outbreak of COVID-19.”

Instead of a normal week-long spring break, UW decided to push its spring semester start date back a week, resulting in a 14-week semester without a single break for students. In its decision, UW offered March 27, April 2 and April 3 as days off. These three days, however, are two Saturdays and a Friday — colloquially known as the weekend, when the majority of students do not have class anyway. 

As a result, thousands of students have signed various petitions to comment on the mental health toll and crises they are facing with the lack of a single period of time away from assignments, class and work during the semester. Specifically, these students are asking for wellness days, or days off to recover mentally and physically, to replace a traditional spring break — a practice the majority of other Big Ten schools have adopted if they opted to cancel spring break. 

Despite these pleas from students, the UW administration has remained firm in its academic schedule, instead opting to send students an occasional email about mental health tips and workshops. This has left professors and instructors to take matters into their own hands — a plethora of instructors have listened to their students’ concerns and amended their syllabi to include additional days off or loosened assignment requirements. 

Despite its ironclad stance towards days off during the semester — due to the university’s concerns over student travel and subsequent COVID-19 infection — UW administration sung a different tune when a financial incentive was introduced. In recent days, students have received ample emails, messages and promotions from the school to purchase tickets to the men’s basketball Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament, two events that are occurring at near identical dates to when UW’s original spring break was scheduled. These two tournaments take place in Indianapolis and other various cities throughout Indiana — over 330 miles from the UW-Madison campus.

Put simply, UW administration cancelled spring break over concerns students would travel and bring COVID-19 infections back to campus, damaging the mental and physical health of its students in the process. Yet, during the same time period when that spring break was supposed to take place, that same administration is encouraging students to purchase tickets and travel away from campus in order to attend its athletic events. 

What’s the difference between the two scenarios? UW makes money off of the latter. 

This is not to argue that students or fans should not attend these events — sporting events have proven that they can operate in a safe and functional manner with fans. But you can’t have it both ways — either you’re OK with students leaving campus, or you’re not. 

“The conference decided on ticket allocation including some shared with schools for students to purchase,” Director of News and Media Relations and university spokesperson Meredith McGlone told The Daily Cardinal in an email. “In accordance with the actions of our Big Ten peers, we are making these available, but also following up with students who purchase to ensure proper precautions are taken. All spectators will be masked and physically distanced at games.” 

This discrepancy is not a matter of safer measures or different precautions — it’s seemingly one that is entirely financially motivated. UW allows — and actively encourages — students to travel when they get to make a buck. 

UW administration’s insistence that they can ensure students take proper precaution while away from campus is either hilariously naive, or more likely, intentionally ignorant. The NCAA tournament will bring thousands of students, fans and spectators from around the country into a few condensed spots. Kind of sounds like spring break, doesn’t it? 

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The only assurance UW could possibly have is that its students would take proper precautions while inside the arenas. This does not account for anything else students will likely do during their trips; thousands of students will be condensing on the same public attractions, restaurants, leisure activities, hotels and gatherings. What are the odds all UW students who attend the tournament lock themselves away in their hotels when they are not at the arena? This does not even take into account the risk of contraction during travel — buses, planes, ride-share services, public transportation, etc.

These are the same risks and activities administration was most concerned about in cancelling spring break. Yet, when the same risks are present at the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament, UW states that it can properly monitor its students and ensure they take all necessary precautions before returning to campus. 

You can’t have it both ways, UW. Either you’re OK with students traveling away from campus, or you’re not. 

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