Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

New Reading Day will work to minimize fall semester burnout

Elise Brenner

Students of Augustana are constantly encouraged to create change in our communities. However, that is not always easy to do, and change requires a high level of commitment and dedication. In order to create the change you want to see, you have to look at every aspect that change will bring and every person affected by the change. Although change can be hard to accomplish, it is not unobtainable, as seen in the recent addition to the 2025 academic calendar: Reading Day. 

Reading Day was originally brought up by senior Kayla Palliser in the fall semester of 2021, when she gave a speech in her public speaking class with Professor Donna Hare, professor of communication studies. 

Her speech was in response to a prompt asking her to present on a problem around campus and research a possible solution. Palliser chose to focus on the issue of student burnout, specifically in the fall semester, and introduced the idea of implementing a longer Fall Break to ease the burden for students and staff. Later on, in the spring of 2022, Palliser was approached by Professor Hare to see if she had any interest in going further with her idea to make it a reality for Augustana.

Originally, Palliser’s proposal was for a week-long Fall Break for students and staff by starting the semester earlier, arguing one day off was not enough. This would allow time for mental recovery and catching up on work in the middle of the semester. However, when reviewing the parameters for the earlier start and exploring the consequences of opening campus earlier, it became clear that changing the start date of the semester would disrupt the academic calendar too much, so a week break would also not be possible.

“We found out that there is a very specific seat time amount set, and Augustana is already very close to the amount of time,” Hare said. “So we wouldn’t be able to do any extra breaks in the fall without moving our start or stop dates for the whole year.”

In the spring of 2022, Professor Hare formed an Affinity Circle, a group with a common goal. Members included Palliser, Hare, Lena Hann from the Public Health department, Laurel Williams from the Communication Studies and Disorders (CSD) department and Ann Perreau from the CSD department. 

The group focused on the issue of student and staff burnout in the fall and worked to formulate a plan that would be most beneficial for the Augustana community. They sent out surveys to staff to gauge concerns about expanding Fall Break, and they spoke to counseling services for input on patterns of student performance throughout the semester and when they noticed a lag in motivation. Affinity Circle members met with multiple committees to figure out how to incorporate Reading Day into the academic calendar while keeping in mind the many parts of campus that would be impacted. With the exception of faculty meetings, Palliser was involved in discussions at every stage of the process.

The Affinity Circle took into account a great number of variables that would be affected by starting the semester a week earlier to accommodate for a week break. This included issues with athletics, general costs, food insecurities and seat time requirements, which is the amount of class time required for a course. The seat time requirements specifically took a great deal of time to properly figure out as Augustana College has very strict regulations about seat time and even minor adjustments to the schedule can cause major issues. 

After careful consideration and modifications to Palliser’s original idea, along with advice from other staff such as Liesl Fowler, Greg Domski, Amanda Wilmsmeyer and then-president resident Steven Bahls, the group pitched the idea for a Reading Day at a faculty meeting. The Reading Day would be a day designed for students and staff alike to be able to catch up on work and recover. Reading Days are fairly common at comparable schools, often held during finals to allow students the opportunity to get themselves together before the semester’s end. 

“This has had a lot of different lives,” Palliser said. “It’s had a lot of different iterations, but it’s always been aimed at what’s the most amount of good we can do to address this issue, using the resources and under the constraints that we have.”

Hare said other campuses have found Reading Days to be extremely beneficial for students and staff as it gives them a chance to catch up or even take a small break. Even if only for a day, a small break proved helpful for communities to restore their energy and improve mental health for the rest of a semester.

“The purpose of Reading Day is to help with that burnout,” Hare said. “Once you hit burnout, you can’t do anything about it and that’s definitely a mental health issue. And, unfortunately, our world doesn’t seem to recognize it as much as it should be, so we’re hoping this can be a positive step forward.” 

Bill Iavarone, Director of Counseling Services, supported the plan for implementing a Reading Day. He presented data to show the increased levels of stress in students after Fall Break, which lasts only a day, compared to the decreased levels of stress in students after Spring Break, which is a week long. This stress can be related to multiple factors including the change of weather, less sunlight, academic pressure and general issues present to students. 

“I think it’s hard to ignore more and more how mental [health] impacts the academic side of students,” Iavarone said. “I think that this false division between you’re just going to come to class and be a student and not worry about other things on your mind is not viable. There’s a lot of research to suggest that improving students’ mental health improves their academics.”

In addition to supporting the mental health of students, the Affinity Circle also wanted to support professors who also experience burnout as their work also tends to pile up around Fall Break.

In the end, Reading Day was agreed upon unanimously by a faculty vote in May of 2022 and the final catalog language for Reading Day was fully finalized by full faculty vote in April 2023.

The first-ever Reading Day is set in the 2025 academic calendar as an alternative day of learning, on Monday of week 8.

It is the hope that Reading Day will not only provide a day for the Augustana community to catch up with assignments, work or even sleep, but will also serve as an example for Augustana as a way that we can create solutions for our community to perform at our best throughout the year. 

“I’ll never get to experience Reading Day as a student,” Palliser said. “But it’s something I get to leave behind to future vikings as well as future and current professors. So I’m thankful to everyone who helped make this day possible. I’m proud we’ve found a way to make campus better.”

Reading Day is one step out of a hopefully long line of improvements made for the benefit of the Augustana community and is a starting point to create more accessible resources for the students and staff. 

Kayla Palliser currently works for the Observer

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