On March 15, students and faculty received an email from President David Smith announcing the addition of one mental health day for the semester scheduled to take place on Friday, April 23. All classes will be cancelled that day.
The decision came as a response to the petition initiated by SA President Sheryl Kambuni calling for two mental wellness days. The petition, found on change.org, received a total of 1,481 supporters. However, the number of Southern students who signed the petition could not be verified, according to administration.
“We have heard the distress expressed by many students regarding the mental health of the campus,” Smith wrote in the email. “We understand how the changes and uncertainties brought by the pandemic have affected stress levels. Administration wants you to know that we share your concerns, and we have seriously considered the request of many students to accommodate mental health days this semester as one way of helping relieve stress.”
Though the original petition requested two mental health days, administration had to consider the number of classroom hours required by accreditors to award academic credit before reaching their decision. As a result, only one mental health day was approved.
“Southern’s accrediting organizations require a certain standard of academic excellence and rigor, including a minimum number of classroom hours per course, per semester,” Smith and Academic Administration Senior Vice President Bob Young said in a separate email correspondence with the Accent. “Starting the semester a week late and taking two days off for spring break absorbed almost all of the flexible capacity that typically exists in our academic calendar.”
According to Smith and Young, part of the reason why administration chose April 23 for the mental health day was based on faculty’s feedback. While some students have expressed that they would have preferred the mental health day on a Monday, Smith and Young explained that administration chose a Friday to ensure that students would have a complete free day without the need to make up any missed work.
“We recognize that many students would have preferred to have a Monday off,” Smith and Young said. “However, labs and clinicals could not be canceled. So, if we selected a day other than Friday, students with these obligations would either not be able to have the full day off or have to make up the lab/clinical on another day.”
In addition to the cancellation of classes on April 23, faculty will not be allowed to schedule any assignments or assessments to be due during that weekend. However, campus will remain open for those who need to use the facilities.
“What we most want students to know is that we care about them, and they do have a voice on our campus,” Smith and Young said. “… We hope students also understand that situations can be more complex than they appear on the surface, with university governance processes, accreditors, partner institutions and other considerations all factoring into their experience here. It is part of our mission to ensure our students are served well on our campus, and we will continue seeking ways to help students relieve stress as we complete the semester.”
Kambuni said she is happy administration heard students’ petition and provided a middle ground.
“Under the circumstances, I am glad something was worked out to make room for a wellness day,” Kambuni said. “… The process took time and work. But, at the end of the day, [students] were given a chance to voice our opinion, and an action was taken in response.”