November 21, 2011

Carving out more turkey time

Holding classes on the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week is a major inconvenience.

“Change of plans. Coming back to Vegas tonight!” “Back in Vegas for the week. Time to relax….” “VEGAS BOUND!!!” “Vegas wat up.”

The preceding is a random selection of Facebook statuses posted by four of my college-going friends from back home this past Sunday or Monday, presented in order of decreasing coherence. While the last of these arguably does not consist of words, the sentiment it expresses is clear: Its author, to use that term almost irresponsibly, returned to our hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada for Thanksgiving vacation on Sunday evening. That leaves him with at least three full days during which he can relax and unwind—time he is likely to spend enjoying the company of his family and old friends whom he has not seen since moving away from home for the first time—before Thanksgiving Day even arrives.

Meanwhile, back at UChicago, as my friends are home taking full advantage of their time off and doing all the nice, fuzzy things one can do when visiting home, I’ll just be sitting here twiddling my thumbs until Wednesday evening, when the academic calendar finally allows me to go home. And many others here will be doing exactly that.

It is clear to me already—on the first Thanksgiving-week Monday I have spent here—that this abbreviated week will be a relative throwaway. There seems to be a kind of understanding between instructors and students that, since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, there’s no need to go mad with the work. Classes, though admittedly still valuable and arguably necessary given the fast pace of the quarter system, are a little easier-going. Broadly speaking, a relative lull seems to have appeared in the onslaught of midterms (my sincerest apologies and best wishes if you happen to have one) in light of finals being so soon. Really, although this place is always serious business, these three days are a kind of no-man’s-land of indifference and are likely the closest any of us will ever get to coasting through a week here.

Given that this week is objectively not as demanding as others, yet still requires us to be here and, again speaking generally, do a minimal amount of work, our short Thanksgiving becomes a kind of awkward stop-start point rather than a bona fide vacation. Our momentum is slowed unusually and at a crucial time. Just as someone driving up a steep hill should avoid stalling, we should not be made to sit through this short almost-week and then be handed a shorter almost-vacation with the hectic climax of fall quarter imminent. A longer break would be a more natural plateau before the climb picks up again tenth week; at the very least, we would all know what we were getting.

What is most upsetting given these issues associated with the current Thanksgiving break regime is that the length of the break alone prevents a great many students from even bothering to go home. For many, the expense or distance associated with traveling home for such a short break is prohibitive. In essence, therefore, what the University does by holding class on the day before Thanksgiving is directly prevent a significant amount of its students from going home for a holiday whose value and purpose is largely to get people to return home and be thankful for what they have. To actually deny students this opportunity in order to hold a diluted and abbreviated week of classes seems entirely unjustifiable.

Of course, the fact that a lot of students choose not to go home for Thanksgiving is certainly not news. Indeed, the student body and the University itself proudly make the best out of this non-ideal situation every year, with dining halls offering up all the foods you would expect to see at Thanksgiving and the people who stay here becoming each others’ surrogate families for a day or two. I must admit, all of these things are very admirable and speak to our resilience as a community. However, the circumstances that bring them about are unfortunate.

Were the powers that be in the University to agree in the future to give us the entire week of Thanksgiving off, the issue of students having to sit through a watered-down three-day week would disappear completely, and that of people being effectively prohibited from traveling home would be mitigated significantly. Of course, even then, people wouldn’t necessarily have to be forced to leave; the fact that winter break is a mere two weeks after the end of Thanksgiving break would certainly still be a consideration for many. That reality alone should not be enough, however, for administrators to justify maintaining the status quo, as there are simply too many downsides currently associated with it. And in the end, surely it is better in this instance to err on the side of turkey than on that of term papers.

At the very least, giving us Wednesday off, while it might make the issue of the short week even worse, would help to an extent in convincing people that a trip home is long enough to be worthwhile. For now, though, I’ll just have to settle for quality time with family and friends, Thanksgiving dinner, and multiple trips to In-N-Out Burger being squeezed into three days, and a less exciting Facebook status. I’m thinking of going with, “Vegas wat up… finally.”

Ajay Batra is a first-year in the College.