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Bah, Humbug

The brevity of our winter break puts a crimp on holiday cheer—and student well-being

By Lauren Foote

Am I the only one who has glanced at our academic calendar this year? Please, take a moment to log on the Registrar’s Office website and behold the reprehensible truncation of what used to be our winter vacation. Or just keep reading and I’ll tell you about it. Last year we had our last classes of fall term on Dec. 16 and were released to the world, returning to fair Harvard on Jan. 4. This break, which paled in comparison to those of our friends from home, lasted 19 glorious days. But if you thought Harvard couldn’t make your holiday any shorter, you were wrong. This year our winter break starts on Dec. 22 (yes, that’s when your high school gets out) and ends on Jan. 3. We have 13 unlucky days to spend away from Cambridge.

Now this isn’t bad news for everybody. If you were planning on not decorating your Christmas tree, not eating dinner with your family, not getting presents for your friends or not curling up in front of your fireplace with something other than your economics book, you should be golden. Also, if you’re uber-competitive and wanted to know that your very own Harvard boasts the shortest winter break out of all its peer institutions, you’d also be in luck. Yale, as usual, is a close second, but alas, no cigar. Yale has 17 days away from New Haven, four more days of holiday merriment then their studious Cantabrigian counterparts. Sure, four may not seem like much, but bear in mind, it’s about a third of our vacation. Columbia, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Brown and Princeton all surpass the 20-day milestone, awarding their students much-needed rest after the fall term.

Personally, I would like to congratulate a school that has been championing its efforts to improve mental health on severely curtailing its mid-year break. Over the past year, Harvard has been publicly declaring its new dedication to improving the mental health status of the notoriously over-stressed, over-worked Harvard student. The plethora of discussion revolving around mental health (and its regretful state at our university) has motivated the administration to create a new position in the system, appointing Paul J. Barreira to be Director of University Counseling, Academic Support, and Mental Health Services. A pilot program was launched this fall, placing “wellness tutors” in three Houses on campus to, according to a Crimson article published this fall, “promote various health-related resources on campus and serve as a sounding-board for student and tutor mental health and wellness concerns.” Clearly, the administration is aware of the problem. Dare I suggest that a good part of the solution might be taking some time off from Cambridge?

The student body should know that this year only foreshadows what is to come. With foresight that can only be qualified as “Havardian,” the administration has orchestrated a calendar for the next three years at least which reflects their dedication to this truncated hiatus. Those of us in the class of 2007 will not see a winter break longer than the one we are going to enjoy (debatable) this year during our time at Harvard.

During our baker’s dozen vacation there is time for us to receive our partridges in our pear trees all 12 times over; perhaps on the thirteenth day, our truly lovely Harvard could give to us 13 more days of break?

Lauren Foote ’07, a Crimson editorial comper, is a Latin American studies concentrator in Currier House.

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