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Since last week Thursday, no Harvard College student has attended any regular class. Far from a collective game of hookie by the student body, this is the College’s spring reading period, an allotment of six to seven days after the end of classes and before exams. Students can use this unstructured and unprogrammed time to decompress, catch up with friends, study for exams, and take a deep breath before another whirlwind school year finishes flying by.
Though the observation of reading period may seem like an immutable law to Harvard students, it is not the norm for all universities, and can vary wildly. Other schools have a mere “Reading Day,” hardly cushioning the transition from regular class to examinations. The length is not even uniform across the Ivy League: Columbia has three “Study Days,” whereas Princeton tops Harvard with an eight day break. Our arch-enemies in Connecticut have a comparable week-long period.
Duration aside, there are many choices that factor into the experience of reading period and of which many Harvard students may not even be aware. Just four years ago, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to restructure reading period in order to alleviate the stressors many students faced during it. Regular classes—with the exception of language-intensive courses—are no longer allowed to gather, essays must be due no earlier than the fourth day of reading period, and no new content may be assigned to students after the end of classes.
The benefits of Harvard’s practices are evident. If students are not given the time to relax, catch their breath between assignments, and prepare thoroughly for exams, they will likely not be able to produce their best work. Even if they do, it may come at the expense of their mental well being and with undue stress. Providing flexibility in students’ schedules gives them the ability to leverage their time and make progress on their assignments as they see fit instead of toiling through their typical academic lineup.
Reading period, however, is not a purely academic experience. It would be lamentable, if not impossible, for a Harvard student to have enough schoolwork to fill an entire week. Many use the time to explore the Greater Boston area, catch up with friends, or even do some recreational rather than academic reading. In some cases, leisure activities are sponsored by the College: many Houses hold their formal dances during reading period, inviting students to the biggest parties of the year the week before they take exams that can count for up to 50 percent of their final grades.
Indeed, reading period captures many of the tensions, ironies, and contradictions of undergraduates’ experience at Harvard College. It has been designed, tweaked, and regulated by administrators, little to the knowledge of Harvard students. Final clubs’ music frequently echoes throughout Mount Auburn Street. Undergraduates are simultaneously told by the College to cloister themselves in the library and to strap on their formal wear for a dance, or to somehow find a way to reconcile the two. At the end of it all, some of us will engage in Primal Scream.
Most importantly, though, exams still seem far off. It’s reading period now, and we’re glad for it.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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