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ASMSU leadership pushes for fall break, cites impact on mental health

February 25, 2019
<p>The Counseling and Psychiatric Services Center is pictured Oct. 9, 2018 on the 3rd floor of Olin Health Center.</p>

The Counseling and Psychiatric Services Center is pictured Oct. 9, 2018 on the 3rd floor of Olin Health Center.

Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Talk of adding a fall break to Michigan State University's academic calendar is circulating between the Association Student of Michigan State University's leaders and the administration. These discussions are centered around the positive impacts having a break during this time could have on students' mental health.

ASMSU's Vice President for Academic Affairs Dylan Westrin presented the idea to former Interim President John Engler last semester, who he said was “not receptive” to the initiative. However, with recently appointed Acting President Satish Udpa, Westrin brought the conversation back.

“We want to predicate this on mental health, because we know that around that time of hallo-weekend, there tends to be a spike in students who are using services in CAPS," Westrin said. 

CAPS refers to MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services. Westrin said with midterm exams taking place in October when CAPS sees this spike, “there needs to be some sort of break.” He also said at this time, the university sees more medical withdrawals.

The inaugural director of CAPS, Mark Patishnock, clarified this via email. 

“Consistent with other national universities, CAPS counseling service experiences a significant increase in students seeking assistance during October and this has been consistent during the past few years," the email said. 

ASMSU President Cookie Rifiotis has been working with Westrin on this initiative, and expressed that the “goal is to minimize that spike that happens in the fall and try to break it down like the spring does.”

“I think a fall break is very, very necessary and I don't think anyone disagrees with that from faculty, to other students, to staff members,” Rifiotis said. 

However, Westrin’s discussions with individuals such as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs June Youatt have brought up potential conflicts of the implementation of a fall break.

“The struggle MSU has traditionally had in scheduling a mid-fall break is the interruption it creates in laboratory courses, their set-up and instruction,” Youatt said via email. “If that problem can be overcome, there is still the real consideration about whether the campus community is willing to extend the semester later, shortening the winter break, or start earlier for fall semester, shortening the summer break.”

Westrin said the conflict lab classes create is due to the fact that many — specifically ISB and ISP labs — only meet once a week.

“It’s not like they're missing just one class session, they're missing a whole week of their semester,” Westrin said. “We are looking at some way to make up for that, if that’s even possible.”

Along with discussing strategies to ensure this initiative is eventually carried out by ASMSU leadership, Westrin is also scheduling meetings with Interim Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Mark Largent for further discussion. 

“At least now we are able to have a discussion about it," Westrin said. "But it's not a guarantee."  

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