C/O Yoohyun Park

After heading into the break strong, both the men’s and women’s volleyball teams look well prepared, hitting the ground running 

After another stunning call by the Ontario provincial government to deem the Ontario University Athletics an amateur league (non-elite), many wondered what the future would hold for university athletes.  

The winter break was a lot of time off for many athletes, but when you factor in the additional month as a result of the lockdown, the rust really starts to come in play. Despite a hot start, McMaster's volleyball teams were amongst those who were feared to be affected by this, only having one week to practice before abruptly resuming their regular season schedule. 

“Obviously it's a big challenge, but all the teams are in the same boat. Dave has built a really good program, and all the pieces are in place. We’ve been working really hard this week, we’ll work hard next week, and hopefully we’ll be able to pick up right where we left off,” said Jordan Pereira, a member of the men’s team. 

Both the men’s and women’s team were able to get going in a hurry as a result of that hard work. Both Marauders teams downed the Western Mustangs in a pair of matchups bringing the men’s season record to a perfect seven wins and zero losses, while the women’s record improved to a strong five wins and two losses. 

With five games remaining in the schedule, the men’s team looks to finish strong with big aspirations on their mind. 

“Every year our goals stay the same; to secure as much home court advantage in the playoffs as we can and put ourselves in the position to win an OUA title and put ourselves in the best possible spot to win a national title,” said Pereira. 

Both teams play their next games on Feb. 17 against the Windsor Lancers, in Windsor. 

Jessica Yang/Production Assistant

Time off work doesn’t always mean a perfect break for professors

For many people, the holidays have always been something to look forward to. For students, this means time away from school and for others, it can mean time away from work. 

This year, at McMaster University, student examinations end officially on Dec. 22, 2021, with winter classes beginning on Jan. 10, 2022. While professors technically have the same time limits when it comes to class dismissals, they spend a large majority of break bringing their courses to fruition. 

Courses often require a lot of planning leading up to the first class, but the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in professors planning for online classes since March of 2020. 

Now, for the upcoming winter semester in 2022, there is going to be a transition to an almost entirely in-person learning format, which can mean a shift in planning for professors yet again. What this planning looks like will differ depending on the course. 

Joe Kim, an associate professor at McMaster under the department of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour, spoke about how the IntroPsych team at McMaster had already had a relatively hybrid learning style prior to the pandemic as they were using virtual modules. Kim explained that planning for the upcoming semester was close to completion. 

Krista Howarth, an assistant professor at McMaster under the department of kinesiology, explained that, although a large majority of her course planning had been completed, there were still things like the Avenue course shell that needed to be activated and then formatted. 

To Howarth, the way her course appears on Avenue is important, as it is an essential means of communication to her students. She talked about how it would have been nicer to have a longer winter break so she can better prepare for the winter semester.

“I do wish there was more time between term one and term two and even last year, there was a survey that went around and [asked], ‘Would you guys mind if we sort of started the term later this year?’ to give everyone more time. Not just the students, but also [so that] the faculty have more time to get ready for term two,” said Howarth.

“I do wish there was more time between term one and term two and even last year, there was a survey that went around and [asked], ‘Would you guys mind if we sort of started the term later this year?’ to give everyone more time. Not just the students, but also [so that] the faculty have more time to get ready for term two,”

Krista Howarth, Assistant Professor

Though professors spend time planning, many also try to balance spending time with family and friends over the holidays. 

For Kim, the holidays are a chance to be closer with his family. He talked about the variety of games they play, whether that be Sorry!, Dominoes, Clues or Jenga. He also talked about the importance of good food, exercising and binge watching television shows to help create a relaxing break.

“The holidays means the end of semester, so it is a chance to rest, regenerate and spend a lot of time with family. For my daughter, I think she just loves the holidays because everyone is together in the same house so we have time for lots of games,” said Kim.

“The holidays means the end of semester, so it is a chance to rest, regenerate and spend a lot of time with family. For my daughter, I think she just loves the holidays because everyone is together in the same house so we have time for lots of games,”

Joe Kim, Assistant Professor

Howarth also spoke about how excited she is for the upcoming holidays. 

It’s a hard earned break that she always looks forward to because she gets time to spend with her family. Her family loves to do puzzles together as she said it was their own form of relaxation. 

Howarth also discussed how few days she actually takes off during the winter, spending the rest of the days working towards the first day of winter semester.

“I don’t often get to spend as much time as I would’ve liked over the holidays with my family, [but] at least I do get to take a little bit of time off to do some things with my kids and my other family members . . . Most years I take off Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing day and I’ll spend that at my parents’ house. I go with my kids and we just hang out there and do our typical Christmas celebrations,” said Howarth.

“I don’t often get to spend as much time as I would’ve liked over the holidays with my family, [but] at least I do get to take a little bit of time off to do some things with my kids and my other family members,"

Krista Howarth, Assistant Professor

Both Kim and Howarth shared advice for students on how to have a balanced winter break. They stressed the importance of how taking a break is essential to wellbeing. 

Kim shared how it is good to be productive, but that there are realistic ways to achieve this. He suggested making a list of things one hopes to finish during the break and to ensure that they are realistic goals.

Kim shared how it is good to be productive, but that there are realistic ways to achieve this. He suggested making a list of things one hopes to finish during the break and to ensure that they are realistic goals.

The upcoming break is a much needed holiday for not only students but also professors. Many use this time to spend quality time with their families. Though rest is their main goal, many professors still find themselves spending a large majority of their break planning for the next teaching semester.

Fall semester has been rough for students, yet it doesn’t look like Mac will be adjusting anything for the winter semester

It’s no surprise that lots of students are feeling the stress of an online semester. That’s because it’s not just an online semester — it’s an online semester during a pandemic. 

A friend recently reached out to me to see how I was finding this semester. I told him that it has been challenging in more ways than one.

I have found it very difficult to focus on studying, work or even to do things that I enjoy doing, such as reading and drawing. As someone who has a disability that affects my ability to concentrate, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise for me. But with the pandemic, not only has my concentration gotten worse, but it has also been difficult for those without disabilities to focus as many are feeling heightened stress and anxiety due to COVID-19. This constant state of worry detracts from our ability to focus on tasks and as a result, shortens our attention span.

Furthermore, our homes have become the place that we now do everything. I attend doctor’s appointments, talk to my therapist, do my homework, attend work meetings, and partake in hobbies — all from my room. Not having a change of scenery can be difficult.

https://twitter.com/RGothoskar/status/1318197090456055809

My friend mentioned that he also found that many friends at school — specifically, ones taking a full course load — have found it incredibly difficult to study and focus during this semester. He told me that he wanted to gather information as to how different students feel about this online semester and what would help them for the winter semester if things were to change.

That’s when the metaphorical alarm went off in my head. Yes, we all know students have been struggling with school this semester — but is McMaster University going to do anything to help us?

I can tell you that both my friend and I realized that Mac probably isn’t going to change the way things are being run for next semester. Currently, many issues have been brought up by students regarding an online semester that have not been addressed.

For example, students at Mac and other Canadian universities have raised their concerns about proctoring software being used for testing. While proctoring software can put our privacy at risk, it also puts students who have concentration issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, at a disadvantage. Proctoring software can track your eye movement and many students with concentration issues cannot manage to look at a computer for several hours on end. In fact, I would argue that most students would have trouble doing that.

I don’t blame McMaster for the rocky start with the fall semester. They had to adapt quickly over the summer and I understand that must have been difficult. But if they keep running things the way that they currently are — despite many students struggling and complaining about the semester — then there’s an issue.

In response to some of the recent beefs on here: Yes of course McMaster staff are having a hard time as well, that's...

Posted by Spotted At Mac on Friday, November 20, 2020

On a lighter note, a few ways that some of my courses have run have really improved online school for me. For one of my courses, we have unlimited time to complete a quiz, so long as it is completed within a timeframe of four days. In addition, this course has a take-home exam instead of a timed exam. These methods of testing help students spend as much time as they need to succeed without having to worry about not being able to concentrate or having wifi connectivity issues during the test. 

However, I know that this is not the norm for many courses and definitely not standardized across courses. This is something that Mac could look into for the following semester, but I doubt anything will be done about it.

Another thing that has benefited me is that most of my instructors have been very lenient with providing extensions. It’s important to note that sometimes students may need an extension even if they don’t have proper medical documentation. Maybe they’re sick but are finding it difficult to get a doctor’s note due to the pandemic or maybe they’re just having a bad day.

Either way, it is important for instructors to be compassionate during this hardship we’re all experiencing. However, instructors are currently not mandated to provide extensions and I can tell you from experience that there are definitely professors out there who are less than willing to provide an extension.

But at the end of the day, is Mac going to listen to our concerns? Will the university listen to our feedback and adapt accordingly? I really want to say that they do care about us, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that Mac will run the next semester as business as usual.

An extended break sounds great, but it has consequences for students

On Nov. 19, McMaster University announced that our winter semester classes will begin on Jan. 11, 2021, as opposed to Jan. 4, when they were initially supposed to begin. This change was recommended by the virtual learning task force, which consists of 31 faculty, students and staff members.

They stated that the reason for this is to support students’ wellness and mental health and providing faculty and instructors with extra time in preparing for the winter term. Mac also mentions that with this extra week, students who went home will now have an extra week to self-isolate to limit COVID-19 cases. 

While I am thankful for an extra week in many aspects, I think it’s important to consider the consequences of this decision.

For example, not all students will be able to enjoy this extended break. Health sciences students, with the exception of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program, are exempt from this break. This means that nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, physician assistant, medical students and more are unable to partake in the break, even if they really need it. In addition, graduate students who have planned their thesis defence for the week of Jan. 4 will not have the option to have this break.

Not only does this break already exclude a large group of students, but it may have consequences on our exam period. It’s important to note that the McMaster Daily News article states that classes will be extended into the exam period, that no classes will overlap with exams and that the semester will end as originally planned.

What this means is unclear, but we may no longer have a short break between classes and before exams. An extra week of winter break may also mean that our exam schedule is condensed, which can result in more back-to-back exams.

For me, these potential consequences of an extended winter break seem like a net negative. An extra week off is always good to have, but I’d rather have a break right before exams when I’m a lot more stressed and have my exams spread over a longer period of time.

What this means is unclear, but we may no longer have a short break between classes and before exams. An extra week of winter break may also mean that our exam schedule is condensed, which can result in more back-to-back exams.

Furthermore, if this is the response to added stress from a pandemic, their solution is weak. Other universities, such as the University of Toronto, made a much clearer statement about the reasoning behind the break and also stated that they are continuing to redesign its mental health services.

They also mention that employees who are returning on Jan. 4 will get three extra paid days off which can be used now until Aug. 31, 2021. U of T acknowledged the consequences of the pandemic by noting that students have been feeling a huge amount of stress for several months and that many U of T community members have dealt with unique challenges, such as at-home childcare. 

Obviously, U of T has its own set of issues that have yet to be addressed, but it is comforting to know that they have other action items that they are working on to improve the quality of life for students.

Most of all, this announcement had me frustrated. I’m worried that because students seem happy about this break — which we’re allowed to be happy about — Mac may think that these measures are good enough to support students during a pandemic. However, a break is not enough for me and it likely isn’t enough for many other students.

The way I see it is that Mac is focusing on strategies to cope with stress when they could be focusing on how to give us a less stressful workload. After all, we wouldn’t need breaks to deal with our increased levels of stress if we had less stress in the first place.

Graphic by Razan Samara / Online Editor

How do you spend the holiday season?

Rachel Lieske: My friends refer to me as the Grinch. The older I get, the more I realize how important Christmas is to others, and how insignificant it is to me. My sister and I set up a Christmas tree every year, even though my family never exchanges presents. I would wake up early like my friends, but instead of rushing to open presents, I would watch TV. The first year of university was the first year my parents didn’t put up a tree, and the second year we only had four family members over for Christmas, this year is undecided.

Razan Samara: One of the perks of growing up as a Muslim in North America is having opportunities to partake in the seasonal festivities without necessarily feeling the pressure of the holidays or any affiliated expectations and obligations. I typically take advantage of the time off to reconnect with long-distance friends or spend quality time with family. Coincidently, my siblings’ birthdays are on Dec. 25 and 28, so there’s always a reason to gather the family and celebrate. For me, the holiday season is all about community. Last year, I spent a day with a couple friends cooking at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market. I have fond memories of chef Grant from Best on Bread teaching us how to make a delicious stack of bruschetta for a friend’s holiday party.

Steffi Arkilander: Usually, I spend the holidays with my family. Because I’m biracial, holiday gatherings are usually a mix of both sides of my family. I get to see family members I haven’t seen in a long time, and we learn about what everyone has been up to in the past year. New Year’s is special too because my Chinese side of my family values a fresh start [and] going into the new year with good intentions.

Jessica Gelbard: Most of my holiday season is spent spinning wooden toys, spending time with family and stuffing my face with jelly-filled deep fried doughnuts. In order to celebrate the miracle of a tiny drop of oil lasting eight nights, I get pretty lit. And by getting lit, I mean I light a candle for each night of [Hanukkah] amassing a fully lit menorah by the last night!

Trisha Gregorio: I don’t have any particular holiday season staples or routines. My family consists of my mother, my younger brother and myself, and we spend Christmas quietly without exchanging gifts or holding Christmas parties at home. I find that in the lack of any concrete traditions Christmas feels lacklustre relative to the whirlwind of the days preceding it. Instead, I enjoy the lead-up to the week of Christmas — the hustle and bustle at stores, the neverending Christmas carols, the holiday drinks — more than I do Christmas Day itself, so a lot of the holiday season is spent basking in that Christmas atmosphere.

 

What parts of your identity or culture influence your holiday traditions?

Rachel Lieske: Neither of my parents has strong familial ties with their immediate family, and neither do I. Inherently, I don’t have that strong nostalgia that lets the holiday tradition live on for kids my age, despite our impending adolescence.

Razan Samara: One of my religious holidays includes Ramadan — a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, reflection and prayer. Sometimes I miss a few days of fasting during Ramadan and I like to make them up during the winter holiday season. I typically have more time to focus on my spirituality and wellbeing, which is important when it comes to facing the winter blues. The days are also much shorter and fasting becomes easier. I especially enjoy it when I get to break my fast alongside friends celebrating their own holidays and traditions over dinners — there’s a collision of diversity that’s incredibly empowering. Since Islamic holidays are observed on a lunar calendar, then every 30 years or so Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr (festival of breaking fast) end up coinciding with other winter holidays. I can’t wait to shop for Eid gifts during Boxing Day in 2033.

Steffi Arkilander: I often get together with the two sides of my family — my white side and my Chinese side. We usually have two dinners for each side of my family, whether it’s for Christmas or New Year’s. One dinner is definitely considered more “traditional” to Western culture, where we all eat together, but my Chinese side often holds a hotpot or some form of Chinese food. We usually have a prayer in both English and Chinese. As gifts, red pockets with lucky money are often given from the elders of our family to the younger ones to celebrate Christmas or going into a new year. My family also usually cleans on New Year’s Day as it represents a “fresh start”.

Jessica Gelbard: Most of what influences my holiday traditions comes from my Jewish identity and European culture. For example, the holiday of Hanukkah itself, emanates from the story of the Maccabean revolt, in which the Jews defeated their Syrian-Greek oppressors in 160 BCE. So that comes from my Jewish identity. On the food side of things however, potato latkes, generally associated with Hanukkah, come from my European culture!

Trisha Gregorio: I grew up in the Philippines, where the Christmas season lasts from September to early January. While very little of the customs I had then remain with me [now], habits from childhood still inform my expectations for the holidays (that instinctive anticipation is probably why I like the pre-Christmas season so much). Christmas in the Philippines was also heavily religious, marked by week-long dawn vigils and multiple masses per day, and while my relationship with religion has only gotten more complicated the more I’ve come to terms with my identity, Christmas Mass is the one holiday tradition that my culture will always anchor me to.

 

How do ideas around a “traditional holiday experience” influence your traditions?

Rachel Lieske: Not being absorbed in the “traditional holiday experience” has given me a lot of anxiety about going home for the holidays. Motivated by FOMO [i.e. fear of missing out] and worry surrounding how I will spend such a long time in a town that doesn’t feel like home is daunting.

Razan Samara: My ideas around a “traditional holiday experience” come from watching the Home Alone franchise and feel-good Hallmark films. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how representation of the holidays in the media are almost always monopolized by Christmas and White American culture, so it’s no surprise that my own traditions tend to fit into this “picture-perfect” representation of Christmas. I walked by the Santa Claus parade in Hamilton and Toronto last week, listened to Christmas carols while cooking dinner with a friend a couple nights ago, and I have plans to check out the Toronto Christmas Market for the first time. While I do enjoy my cup of eggnog, I’m hoping to learn more about other holiday traditions this year.

Steffi Arkilander: I think that traditional holiday experiences can come in forms we may not necessarily consider traditional. Although my experience with the holidays may seem unique and different, it’s always been my normal to celebrate the holidays twice and to embrace both sides of my identity as not separate, but whole. Maybe my celebration of the holidays isn’t Western, but it doesn’t mean it’s not traditional. This is a tradition in my family and a tradition within many Chinese and even biracial communities. Although my celebrations may not be the majority, it doesn’t mean they aren’t any less meaningful.

Jessica Gelbard: I’ve notice in recent years, that in order to partake in “mainstream holiday seasons,” many Jewish people have taken to the idea of a “Hanukkah Bush” to replace a “Christmas Tree.” While the idea is cute, I think it adds to the unfortunate reality of assimilation. I too however, partake in events such as Christmas markets, and listening to Christmas music (obsessively I may add!) to feel apart of what society has deemed a “traditional holiday experience.”

Trisha Gregorio: The “traditional holiday experience” presents this ideal where all is cheerful and light-hearted during the holidays. As heartwarming as that can be, I also think it places a particular burden on those of us who don’t have access to the picture-perfect scene that Christmas ads present. For some, the holiday season may have its complications, whether it might be seasonal depression, or someone having to be around homophobic relatives, or simply having to spend Christmas alone. Not everyone has what counts for a warm, “complete” family, either, nor has the financial means to afford a big dinner. It isn’t so much that traditions are affected by this ideal; more than anything, it’s that this expectation of existing traditions isolates those who don’t have any.

 

What’s one takeaway you want readers to walk away with?

Rachel Lieske: Not having strong holiday traditions can be isolating at times. Just know that many people are on the same page as you, those who may have distant family relationships that don’t call for celebrating. This holiday I’m taking advantage of my free time and expending my energy on what’s important to me, and that’s okay.

Razan Samara: The holidays can be overwhelming. Whether you’re facing challenges, or your life seems to have been taken over by festive stress, it’s important to recognize when you need to take a break and focus on your own wellbeing. In the past, I’ve definitely been caught up in all the great expectations of the holiday season while also feeling quite lonely when I don’t see my own cultures and identities well represented. Whether you want to celebrate or not, I encourage you to seek out meaningful connections with your communities — it’s made a world of difference for me.

Steffi Arkilander: Biracial communities often have mixed celebrations and traditions that have shaped how we’ve grown up. I am not just 50 per cent Chinese and 50 per cent white. I am 100 per cent mixed and that is a different experience altogether. My culture can be seen through my meals, holidays and languages (or lack thereof) and they help shape my identity and who I’ve come to be today.

Jessica Gelbard: While the holiday season is often portrayed with a heavy focus on Christmas and the mainstream idea of Christmas, it’s important for us to have pride and joy in our own cultural and religious holidays at this time of year! We should be sharing our holiday joy and knowledge with others as well, so they too can join in the recognition and celebration of our respective holidays. Celebrate your holiday with pride, and reflect on your family’s history as these holidays have been celebrated over the generations before you.

Trisha Gregorio: Don’t get me wrong: Christmas is my favourite part of the year! I think that even at its most simple, the holidays can be a quiet, lovely period to take a break from life. However, while it’s important to channel the Christmas spirit, it’s also worth keeping in mind those who might not be spending Christmas like you are. This doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be happy — you are, and despite everything, I encourage liveliness during the holidays whenever possible. It’s simply that one aspect of Christmas means extending that helping hand, so if you know someone who might be spending Christmas alone, or someone who will be going through a tough time attending family parties, it won’t hurt to send a message or two.

 

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By Jordan Graber

Winter break, along with the two additional reading weeks we have at Mac, are a big deal.

It is a good idea to catch up on schoolwork during the winter break, but it is also a good idea to take a step back and slow down. We tend to underestimate the pressures and obligations of being a student. The limited breaks we have in the semester are well deserved, so we should try to maximize them.

As we’re getting back into the swing of things this term, I realize how little time many of the students here at Mac received over the winter holidays to really take a break. Compared to many universities in Ontario, McMaster’s scheduled “break” was rather short for some, considering exams lasted until Dec. 21, and classes began for this semester on Jan. 4.

While this is somewhat due to the extra reading week that has been introduced in the fall semester, it still doesn’t seem right that while there are some who get to go home in early to mid-December, there are others who must stay until the very end. I have friends who wrote examinations at 7 p.m. on Dec. 21. Considering packing and travel time, this can cut the winter break rather short.

Of course, it is different for everyone based on program, year, courses and many other factors. However, I think that everyone should at least be rewarded a full two weeks of holidays to relax, recuperate and prepare for the rest of the academic year.

I’m sure everyone can agree that exam season is an extremely stressful time and for many people, including myself, going home is the light at the end of the tunnel.

We are in an age of stress and an epidemic of anxiety and depression. Post-secondary institutions around the globe are calling for services to combat mental health rises in college and university students. Students are overwhelmed by the homework and burdens that often come alongside a full course load.

A survey taken in early 2017, involving 15 universities from across Ontario, revealed that mental health budgets had increased 35 per cent, levels of anxiety, stress and depression in university students has increased over 45 per cent and calls to the Mental Health Helpline have increased by 344 per cent; all in the last five years.

There are issues involving students and mental health in modern day society, and no one knows exactly what is going on. We do know that something must be done, because young people deserve to receive the best care and education in their perspective years at university.

Reading weeks and the winter breaks give students the time and space to revamp mindsets and restore healthy mentalities that will carry them to the end of the year. Students are not learning machines, nor should they act as such.

A new, high-pressure environment like university is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, because it can have detrimental effects on those who feel as though they cannot take the time to loosen up and remember that they are not expected to be super-students.

It’s understandable that academic years are tight, but when it comes to the well-being of its students. McMaster should try to ensure that each student gets the holiday that they deserve.

As for you students, make sure you take the time you need to keep yourself on track and in a good place this year. When there is constant work, it is much too easy to fall into a dark place. That is why these breaks are important; they give us all time to breathe.

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