Saturday, September 26, 2020

Why classes should be cancelled school-wide the Wednesday before Thanksgiving

November 25, 2015

Wednesday, thousands of MSU students will be faced with the choice of either attending classes or being home with their families on Thanksgiving. It doesn’t have to be this way, and if the day before Thanksgiving was made a student holiday at MSU, it wouldn’t be.

MSU prides itself on the diversity of its student body. But don’t take my word for it. 

According to the MSU website, under a tab labeled “Global,” “MSU’s campus is home to a vibrant and diverse community of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as renowned scholars and scientists from around the globe.”

Many MSU students are, of course, from Michigan. However, the Spartan community attracts a large number of students from out of state. In my three months here at MSU, I’ve met students hailing from locations like Florida, California and New Jersey. Furthermore, there is a huge contingent of MSU students who hail from Midwestern cities like Chicago, Indianapolis and Milwaukee.

Hopefully, I don’t have to explain why students want to go home for Thanksgiving. It’s the quintessential American holiday, focusing on three national traditions: family, food and football. Most college students are just a few years removed from living at home year-round, and it’s understandable they want to be with their families to celebrate this major holiday.

For students who live within an hour or two of campus, such as the Detroit or Grand Rapids area, getting home for Thanksgiving is not such a major undertaking. Even after a full Wednesday of class, they can drive home or get a ride from their parents and be home before it gets dark.

But remember those students from Florida, California and New Jersey? If they want to go home for Thanksgiving, they’ll have to pay for a plane ticket — an expense many are willing to stomach in order to be home for the holiday, but in order to be home for the holiday they would have to travel on Wednesday — something they would have to miss class to do.

Out-of-state students who live within driving distance of MSU might also have difficulties making it home Wednesday night if they attend class. However, a four to six hour car trip or train ride after a full day of classes is a difficult proposition, both in logistics and in execution. Even some in-state students face similar issues. Though East Lansing is fairly centrally located within the state, for students from Traverse City, Mackinac Island or the Upper Peninsula the trip home from MSU is not an easy one.

The difficulty in getting home for the holiday for many students creates a no-win situation. Students have to answer the unanswerable, deciding whether family or school is a higher priority. Oftentimes, students choose to head home regardless of class obligations, leading to low class attendance the day before Thanksgiving. This leads many professors to cancel their classes for that Wednesday. However, others cannot afford to give up a day of instruction, and some even hold examinations or other mandatory exercises on that day.

One challenging issue is how to replace the all-important day of academic instruction that would be lost if the day before Thanksgiving became a student holiday. There are a number of creative solutions the university could put in place to fix this issue. The most obvious is to simply start school on the Tuesday of welcome week rather than the Wednesday. However, it may not be palatable to lose a day of new students’ transition to college life.

Another option would be to start the fall semester a full week earlier. This would allow MSU to both satisfy the need for a student holiday on Wednesday and add another break in the academic calendar while maintaining the same number of instruction days. MSU could create a fall break, give students a full week off for Thanksgiving, or end the fall semester a few days earlier, all measures that other universities have adopted and are popular with students. Though there might be some initial opposition to moving the first day of classes up a week, the extra break this could provide would be beneficial to help students relax and refocus heading into the end of the semester.

Students from all around the country are attracted to Big Ten universities for their reputation of prestigious academics and unparalleled school spirit. Because Big Ten universities have such a diverse group of students, eight of the 14 Big Ten schools give students at least part of the day off the day before Thanksgiving. 

If MSU made the day before Thanksgiving a student holiday, it would not only help students get home for the holidays, it would solidify MSU’s reputation as a nationally prominent university.

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