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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

UC Davis to potentially implement a ‘dead week’

Student leaders from the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Advisory Board share the process behind implementing the initiative with the ASUCD Academic Senate 


By ELIZABETH WOODHALL — features@theaggie.org


With the small time gap between assignments due during Week 10 and finals week, it’s no surprise that many students feel burnt out as finals draw near. This concern is not one that goes unnoticed; leadership at other UC campuses, including Berkeley and Santa Cruz, have implemented similar initiatives to that of a “dead week,” which are meant as a way to encourage designated time for students to prepare for finals.

Two UC Davis students are hoping to implement a dead week or “dead day” into the academic calendar. Alexandria Moncada, a recent graduate in political science-political service and history and a board member of the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Advisory Board (CUAB), along with Zara Shaikh, a recent graduate in psychology and communication and the student resource representative of Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian Student Group (MENASA) for CUAB hope to bring about this change for the future of UC Davis.

“Dead week/day is traditionally a week or day set apart from the final day of instruction, and before final examination, where there’s no academic obligation for students to complete assignments or attend classes,” Moncada said. “It’s beyond the normal class meeting, and this time is dedicated for students to either review their class work, retain information or, if anything, [practice] self-care time because we all need that before finals. I think that we neglect ourselves so much before finals begin because you’re going from Week 10 straight into finals week, and there’s no time for you to adjust to anything.”

Despite the popularity of the terms dead week or dead day, Moncada said that they are not ones she likes because of their insensitivity to the fact that suicide rates spike during finals week.

“A lot of students deal with a lot of suicidal ideation during finals week because it’s a lot of pressure,” Moncada said. “You don’t know whether you’re going to pass your class or not, and, like, you can’t afford that. You can’t afford to have a dip in your GPA because you’re planning on going to grad school or professional school, or you’re trying to find a job.”

Shaikh furthers that the pressure of wanting to succeed during finals has not been easy.

“It was so tough for me to just keep going, especially after weeks two and three,” Shaikh said. “It was just midterms after midterms or papers and assignments and all. It was just really hard to take some time for yourself to, you know, slow down and understand and learn the material as opposed to just, you know, memorize it for exams and then be done with it.”

Shaikh said that their research was heavily involved in how other UCs’ academic calendars followed dead day/week. Shaik said Moncada focused greatly on Santa Barbara’s current approach to dead week to see the best way to implement it into UC Davis’ academic calendar. With this research, they both proposed an initiative that best aligned with UC Davis’ academic calendar.

“[We wanted to] see some ideas that we can take from their system and implement it into our academic calendar at Davis,” Shaikh said. “I looked at Berkeley’s calendar, too, because they have a revision week before finals week, so I look more at their calendar and their ways of doing things. I also brainstormed a couple of ideas on my own to just, like, think about how Davis could potentially implement a dead day/week.”

They’ve worked closely with ASUCD Academic Affairs since the start of the 2022 academic year and have since proposed the initiative, created a survey for UC Davis’ students and have gotten over 2,000 student responses back. They also had a meeting with ASUCD’s Academic Affairs to get feedback on the survey and to make sure it was including a representative sample of students.

“We basically talked to the Academic Affairs Commissioner, Megan Chung, and she was awesome,” Moncada said. “She was amazing. She was very responsive, and we told her […] that we were working with the chancellor, and that we represent students at large — so this is something that a lot of students have complained about throughout the years, especially with going to the routine of Week 10, and how fast-paced that is.”

After they proposed the survey to the chancellor and other CUAD members, they received approval to circulate the survey, which consisted of three parts that asked students to share their thoughts on their mental health and academic success during Week 10. The survey is currently available on the UC Davis Student Advisory to the Chancellor’s Instagram, @ucdavissac.

“The first part goes over in more detail regarding just the student’s background, just to know more about what college they are part of, what their year is,” Shaikh said. “If they’re an international, transfer, in-state or out-of-state student, then it goes more into their studying habits and mental well-being during finals week, just to get more understanding about their studying habits, and how many hours [go] into studying and [completing] assignments. Then the second section also goes into more questions related to their mental health during Week 10, and the last section goes over in more detail regarding their feelings about implementing a potential dead day or dead week.”

Moncada shared that the survey wasn’t finalized until a few weeks before finals week, which meant that students offered more truthful reactions to this initiative.

“It was actually perfect timing that we got everything approved by the chancellor and approved by everyone else at that meeting,” Moncada said. “[We were able] to circulate it because Week 10 was right around the corner, and people were kind of feeling it so, like, you have authentic reactions.”

Moncada indicated that the survey was sent out to various groups, garnering an overwhelming response within the first few weeks. Students’ results revealed their diminished mental well-being during weeks nine and 10.

“A majority are from Letters and Science, with about 42 to 43 percent, and then about 30 percent in Agriculture and Environmental Sciences,” Moncada said. “A lot of students said that they started studying during weeks nine and 10. A lot of individuals rated themselves as having poor mental health as well. I would say an overwhelming amount [reported] having excessive workload during Week 10.”

Moncada saw these reports and felt frustrated that she was not able to do something “immediately.” An initiative like a dead day or a dead week is not something that can be easily — or quickly — implemented.

“The Academic Senate basically plans out the entire academic calendar six years in advance,” Moncada said. “So, we wanted to get the data now to see what we can do if we can’t get a dead day or [a] dead week. What else would students be interested in? And that’s largely why we got the data at the time that we did, [even if we] can’t even [see] it in our academic career. It could be somewhere beyond someone else’s academic career. But I like to make that impact. That’s awesome.”

Moncada said that the next step for implementing dead day/week is to share the results with the ASUCD Academic Senate. They also hope to share these results with the UC Davis Chancellor and Mayra Llamas, Ph.D., the executive director of community resources and retention centers.

“We’re just waiting back to see when we can potentially meet with Mayra or the chancellor so we can share these results,” Moncada said. “I think we work too hard not to be able to share the results. [We’ll share] what we found with the Academic Senate, and then potentially the end goal is to eliminate some of the work done during Week 10. We have no idea what it’s going to be like — whether they implement it, whether they do not implement it.”

Although they’ve both graduated, they hope that with over 2,000 students who’ve responded to their survey — and more responses coming in — their efforts will not go unnoticed.

“We hope that this survey is just getting the ball rolling and gets more people talking about this issue,” Shaikh said. “I guess for the next steps it all depends on the next CUAD team. Hopefully, they do continue with the project.”

Lesly Ramos, a fourth-year civil engineering major, expressed that a dead day/week would offer a greater opportunity to prepare for finals and would allow students to take a break to prioritize their mental health.

“I feel like a lot of us students are burnt out after turning in our last assignments before diving into finals, and I think it’d be nice if we get the dead week, I think that will definitely help our mental health,” Ramos said. “Taking a step outside and just putting in time for yourself, like self-care, mental health — after those last assignments where you’re, like, mostly exhausted. Because as soon as the last assignments are done, we have to think about finals. But then we’ll also have that in mind that, yes, we still have to deal with finals, but at least it’ll be a weight less off our hands before we dive into finals.”

Dead week would allow students to prepare for final examinations without the burden of regular assignments typically scheduled during Week 10. Shaikh and Moncada hope their efforts will not go unnoticed — especially when it means helping future undergraduate students by alleviating the stress that comes with finals week. Even if it means getting one day off from academic obligations, it could have a substantial impact on students’ mental health and academic success.


Written by: Elizabeth Woodhall — features@theaggie.org