Several students who withdrew from Yale University for mental health reasons told the school’s paper recently they felt utterly abandoned by their own school, and this is just the latest criticism of the Ivy League school’s withdrawal policy.
“I withdrew and they washed their hands of me,” Ray Mejico, a student who withdrew from Yale in February, told the Yale Daily News (YDN) last week.
Students who withdraw for mental health reasons must complete two courses while away from Yale and receive at least a “B” in the courses. They must also demonstrate that they are “constructively occupied” during their time off from Yale in order to re-enter the university.
“Constructively Occupied” was the name of last week’s YDN article, and this requirement in particular angers some students. Critics say it’s ambiguous and disregards what students say should be their main objective during their time off — focusing on their mental health.
The student outrage over Yale’s withdrawal policies is not isolated to the recent YDN article. Students have spoken out about the policy in the past, including one who said the university forced her to withdraw with no guarantee of return. The Yale College Council, a student-led council that works on undergraduate policies, submitted recommendations for improvement of withdrawal policies last spring.
For its part, Yale says it has a robust mental health system that makes withdrawals infrequent. During a forum on mental health and counseling, the school’s counseling director told students the majority of medical withdrawals are voluntary, according to the YDN.
Few, if any, students are forced to withdraw for medical reasons in a given year, Yale University spokesperson, Tom Conroy, told Bloomberg in February.
“That is, in part, a reflection of all the supports provided within the residential college system and by Yale’s health professionals, who provide counseling to all students free of charge,” Conroy said.
Several students who spoke to YDN described the withdrawal process as isolating. Immediately, they lose access to many benefits they had while on campus like access to buildings on campus, extracurricular activities, or even their Yale health coverage.
The loss of this last benefit was particularly distressing for Mejico, the student who withdrew from Yale in February. Mejico, who has struggled with depression since high school, received full financial aid from Yale while he was a student. But upon withdrawing, he told YDN, he also lost his health insurance.
He has to apply for Medicaid, which he said is unlikely to cover the therapy he needs before Yale will readmit him.
Some students say the main problem with Yale’s policy is rigidity.
While they can withdraw at any time, they have to request a so-called leave of absence by the 10th day of the term.
A leave of absence doesn’t carry the same requirements that a withdrawal carries like having to take two courses at another college or show up for an on-campus interview to return to school.
Students on campus argue that Yale’s 10-day window for leaves of absence should be expanded, pointing to Harvard’s leave of absence policy as an example of a more reasonable strategy.
Harvard’s policy, by contrast, provides students a longer window of time to decide if they need to take a leave of absence. Students have until the seventh Monday of the term to request a leave of absence. And even students who request after the seventh Monday can be granted a late term leave of absence.
However, English professor John Rogers, who was on a committee to review the withdrawal policies, told a forum of students that Yale’s policy is similar to that of other Ivy League schools, YDN previously reported. Yale’s policy seems different because it uses the word “withdrawal” to distinguish leaves of absence from temporary departures that occur longer into the semester, according to Rogers.
Perhaps a smaller change might be a potential first step towards improving Yale’s withdrawal and readmission process. A lack of communication was the refrain that loomed over students’ complaints in the YDN article. Students said they aren’t told when decisions will be made about their readmission status in a process already fraught with anxiety.
“I’m kind of mad at Yale all the time. I want to respect their decisions, but I have not seen any reason to, because they haven’t explained any of the reasons behind any of their decisions,” Eugenia Zhukovsky, who withdrew from Yale last semester, told the YDN.
In the meantime, Yale is continuing to work with groups on campus to better understand criticisms and potentially improve upon the withdrawal policy.
“We understand the concern from students, which is why the Dean has convened a committee to review the issue. This committee will seriously consider input by the Yale College Council,” a spokesperson from Yale told Business Insider.
Disclosure: The author of this article is a Yale University graduate.
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