By Isabel Pulgarin
Almost all students wake up and are immediately struck with a to-do list for the day stacking up in their mind. It can be exhausting being a student. Add that on top of being an athlete, an intern, a work study, or part-time worker off campus.
Students try to cope with their stress and anxiety, but failing to keep up can bring on the big s-word.
So, students stop showing up for class. Some are too ashamed after they miss assignments and classes. Others feel behind in life and consider dropping out.
Some students decide to drop a class or two or even take the whole semester off all together when life seems all too much. Staying healthy, clean, connected, fed, or working can seem like a tall, unmanageable order.
Skipping classes and taking the day off to decompress is the only way students see as a way out. It can be a way to reset, recenter, and rebalance school, work, relationships, and pure sanity.
The Buccaneer conducted a survey of 106 students and found about 75 percent voted mental health should be a valid excuse for absences while 23 percent said no. Others believe it depends on the situation and the student’s struggles.
Barry University requires students to attend a specific number of class sessions to receive a passing grade in a course. For instance, in the College of Arts and Sciences, six hours of absences can result in withdrawal from the course, a W if within the first five weeks, or an F after this period.
A recent lawsuit of discrimination brought up these mental health concerns in academia.
Last November, three Yale students along with the nonprofit mental advocacy group comprised of Yale alumni, Elis for Rachael, filed an undergraduate class-action lawsuit alleging their university discriminates against students with mental health disabilities through unfair withdrawal and reinstatement practices. It has since prompted policy changes.
The nonprofit, Elis for Rachael, was created after Yale freshman Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum took her life last year after contemplating the consequences in her life if she withdrew.
The lawsuit alleged students with mental illnesses, including those who voluntarily and involuntarily withdrew, were held to harsher standards — especially those of “less privileged backgrounds.” Those who applied for leave before the 15th day of the semester are virtually guaranteed reinstatement. These students could visit the campus, participate in activities, and access healthcare, but those who withdrew could not.
Luckily, Barry University allows up to five weeks to withdraw or take a leave of absence of up to two consecutive semesters with a tuition refund dependent on which week they withdraw. Barry also has a policy in place to allow consultations with their counseling and psychological services on a case-by-case basis for those considering withdrawals and leaves of absences.
The complaint, and a few previously reported by the Yale Daily News, claimed Yale’s policies left students no choice but to leave during serious bouts of mental illness. Involuntary withdrawals are reportedly allowed for “disability-related symptoms, including a threat to oneself,” without considering the student’s wellbeing and how the university can help keep them on track.
The student plaintiffs also wanted part-time enrollment as an accommodation for the student body since Yale is a strictly full-time university.
Alicia Abramson ’24 and Hannah Neves ’24 both withdrew and were reinstated. They said the withdrawal process was “agonizing” and the reinstatement as “daunting” as the undergraduate admission process.
The students had to apply again with a personal statement, three letters of support, interviews with faculty, and coursework fulfillments from another institution with grades of B or higher. All to prove they have been “constructively occupied” with their time.
“But I didn’t take time off to be productive; I needed to heal. Yale’s process made me feel as though my mental health challenges were a weakness, a moral failure, a character flaw that I had to fix to earn my spot back,” Abramson wrote in Cosmopolitan.
Dr. Pedro A. González Jr., adjunct professor of communications and media law at Barry believes that “students are not numbers on a spreadsheet—they are human beings.”
Considering the circumstances and mental health of a student is a practice for him, he said.
“For me, it is insulting calling those excuses—it’s a cry for help. And any time a student asks for help, you need to answer. Personally, as a professor, an institution needs to answer,” he said. “Of course, people lie... the real thing is that anytime a student asks for [a day off or an extension], I talk to them. I see what’s going on, ‘How can I help?’ And if I cannot help, I ask the school to help.”
There was a similar lawsuit in 2018 out of Stanford University that helped to change leave of absence policies, giving students more say in their choice instead of being forced out by the university’s fear of legal liability. The plaintiff cited a friend who was pressured into a leave of absence not long after they checked into a hospital.
Now, those who remain enrolled have disability-compliant accommodations available.
At Barry, undergraduates on leave or who medically withdraw don’t have to re-apply. But those who withdraw after the first five weeks or have a GPA lower than a 2.0, do have to re-apply. To re-enroll from a medical withdrawal, students need to present the Dean of Students with a recommendation letter from a primary treatment provider. Barry also arranges accommodations—like more time to take tests, reducing course loads, or substituting a course for another— with the Office of Accessibility Services for those with psychological conditions. However, according to the student handbook, students who medically withdraw are not entitled to any claims or credits towards their tuition.
Today, Yale has re-classified medical withdrawals as medical leaves of absences. Students on leave can visit campus, remain enrolled even for summer, participate in extracurriculars, and retain healthcare and use of campus resources. They can have reduced course loads, up to four terms of leave, and won’t be withdrawn if they fail their returning courses.
Barry English Professor Christina Crossgrove also gives students the support they’re looking for in deadline extensions, connections to counseling, and a healthy rapport even if it is not explicitly a part of the policy yet.
“If we are supporting our students that have to go and get surgery or are out sick for some time, and we are supporting them and trying to help them out and help them catch back up, then the same offer should be made to students who are going through it with mental health issues,” she said.
While in college, Crossgrove said she rarely asked for leniency and, never took a day off and “powered through it” even on days when she was not succeeding at life.
“I could have used the time off. I didn’t take a day because I didn’t feel like I could. I didn’t feel like it was acceptable... it just wasn’t an option for me,” she said.
Her advice to students today: disconnect from stressors and give yourself a little bit of joy on those days you take off.