In the cultural imagination of many Americans, Thanksgiving conjures feelings of family togetherness, community, and gratitude. According to this mentality, Thanksgiving is a peaceful and reflective holiday that allows us to give thanks to the people who make our lives special and filled with love. For Princetonians, specifically, Thanksgiving evokes unfettered relaxation, Netflix-binging, and a general break from the intense pressures of academic life.
All this sounds beautiful. If only it were factually representative of most people’s Thanksgiving experiences. In reality, Thanksgiving can be quite a stressful holiday, especially for Princeton students (and college students more generally). The financial infeasibility of traveling, which forces students to remain on a somewhat empty campus during the break, and sustained academic obligation make the holiday far from idyllic for many Princetonians. However, the University can play a major role in fostering a more enjoyable and less stressful Thanksgiving for its student body.
Recently, writer and academic Jennine Capó Crucet wrote an affecting op-ed in The New York Times about the financial and cultural struggles of first-generation college students during Thanksgiving break. The op-ed demonstrated how many first-generation students who must stay on campus during the holiday experience loneliness and isolation. Hence, for many first-generation students, as well as other students who are forced to stay on campus or who do not observe Thanksgiving, the holiday can be emotionally gruesome and disorienting.
At Princeton, a campus that embodies a plethora of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, such a situation is all too prevalent. Although many Princeton students do go home for Thanksgiving, some do not, and Princeton, as a relatively quiet suburban campus, can be quite a lonely place when classes are not in session.
Even for the Princeton students who are privileged enough to go home for Thanksgiving, the break is far from ideal. Princeton does not initiate its Thanksgiving break until the end of classes on the Tuesday before the holiday, which makes for a relatively short time off and increased travel difficulty for many students. Similarly, many classes retain their usual workloads for the following week after Thanksgiving, which forces Princeton students to attend to their academic obligations during a time that should be dedicated to family and self-care.
All in all, the Thanksgiving breaks of many Princetonians are far from relaxing, and the University must reform its institutional procedures to improve the holiday experience for its student body. Last November, Mason Cox wrote a column in the ‘Prince’ in which he explained the struggles of low-income students during fall break. Cox highlighted how “for students who receive [financial] aid, only two round trips are covered.” Thus, “[students on financial aid] can go back [home] for winter recess and summer break — but not fall recess, Thanksgiving recess, spring recess, or intersession [assuming they elect to go home during winter and summer breaks].” (Also, under the 2017-18 financial aid award policy, the manner in which aid is distributed for travel somewhat differs between domestic and non-domestic students.)
In the column, Cox proposes a change to financial aid policy that will enable low-income students to visit home more often. Such a change is tremendously necessary, as it will allow low-income students to spend Thanksgiving break, as well as other breaks potentially, with their families. It is profoundly inequitable for some students to be deprived of time with family and confined to solitude during Thanksgiving due to socioeconomic disadvantage. Princeton can and should rectify this as soon as possible.
Likewise, the University should expand Thanksgiving break by cancelling all classes on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving to foster smoother traveling experiences for students, especially those who must take flights to their Thanksgiving destination. The University should also develop a program that allows students who plan to remain on campus, but still want to celebrate the holiday in a traditional, off-campus setting, to be invited to Thanksgiving dinners with caring families in the Princeton area. The program would be another important step in combating loneliness on campus during the break.
Finally, professors have a moral obligation to make Thanksgiving break more of an actual academic break for Princetonians by assigning a less sizable workload, if a workload must be assigned at all, during the holiday. No papers or problem sets should be due the Monday or Tuesday after the break, and no tests or quizzes should be scheduled for the entire week after the break. Students deserve a Thanksgiving that is relatively free of academic stress; professors have the ability to ensure that this is the case.
Thanksgiving break for many Princeton students is far from festive and joyous. Financial hardship, isolation, and academic stress are all too common during this time a year for countless Princetonians. Next Thanksgiving, therefore, the University should implement concrete policies that will make Thanksgiving an enjoyable and memorable holiday for its students. Anything less is unacceptable as all Princetonians deserve an improved Thanksgiving experience.
Samuel Aftel is a sophomore from East Northport, N.Y. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.