College updates medical leave of absence policy to aid students who struggle with mental health issues

Recent changes in the leave of absence policy were inspired by the Jed Foundation, a non-profit mental health group, who evaluated the college’s mental heath services. The college hosts therapy dog sessions where students can pet and cuddle with the dogs to relieve stress (Udeshi Seneviratne/ photo Editor).

The college recently revised its policy for students who require a leave of absence. The revised policy allows students who encounter medical problems to take a leave with greater leeway. 

The Jed Foundation, a non-profit mental health group, evaluated the college’s mental health services and recommended that the college institute a change to the existing leave of absence policy, according to Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio. 

“We’ve noticed that the number of students who are taking leaves specifically for mental health reasons has gone up dramatically,” Bonfiglio said. “We wanted to have a policy which would make it easier for folks to take medical leaves.” 

The previous policy allowed students to withdraw from the college for any reason before a certain date in the semester, generally two-thirds of the way through. If students leave right before the deadline, they withdraw from all their classes and do not receive any refund. 

The new policy allows students to present the college with a medical rationale for why they need to leave before the end of the semester. If the student tries to leave before the deadline, they undergo the same previous process, but if they ask for a withdrawal after, the college then considers whether to grant a retroactive withdrawal. 

“We’re trying to take a more compassionate and … more user-friendly approach to this,” Bonfiglio said. “I can’t make a blanket statement that in each and every case it will work, but if the proper documentation is in then it’s pretty certain that we will provide the retroactive withdrawal.” 

As many as two dozen students will request retroactive withdrawals in a given semester, Dean of Students and Director of the Center for Community Leonard Sancilio estimated. Sancilio also noted that around 60 students have withdrawn from the college before the deadline due to mental health problems.

“Students can take the medical leave of absence and still return the following semester and now with more conditions in place, in essence, to help the student,” Sancilio said. “Make sure you’re ready to return, make sure you’re ready to be successful, [figure out] what supports need to be in place … so it’s not rehashing of the same issues just in a different semester.” 

When a student provides their documentation, the dean’s office determines whether the student’s claims merit a retroactive withdrawal. A committee convened by Sancilio looks at the special requests to ensure that the documentation is valid and the student’s rationale is sound. 

 “We have to distinguish between what was a choice and what is out of [a student’s] control,” Sancilio said. “There are certain students who say ‘I thought I was going to do better on this next exam and I didn’t so now I want to withdraw,’ and that’s not a reason to backdate withdrawals. On the other hand, if something happens that is truly out of a student’s control—they’ve had a mental break, they’ve been hospitalized—they can appeal to take a leave of absence and we backdate their withdrawal.” 

When possible, the college will also try to find ways for a student to finish the semester without withdrawal, according to Sancilio. The dean’s office will work with professors to see whether students can complete the course from afar or whether the professor would be willing to grant an incomplete until the student can finish their assignments. 

Sancilio emphasized that the process exists to ensure the college maintains its standards for grades and classroom procedures.

“A lot of this is to protect the integrity of the institution,” Sancilio said. “If anyone could withdraw at any time for any reason, what would a grade really mean? But there are those special circumstances that says we should not hold a student responsible for something they had no control over.”