The Office of the Dean at the University of Connecticut has moved to assert its position on prioritizing students’ mental health and wellness. This comes as a response to a report by ABC News that Stanford University was forced to revise its involuntary leave of absence (LOA) policy to better accommodate students facing mental health crises.
Associate Dean of Students Maureen Armstrong said the university’s approach to handling students facing mental health crises is holistic.
“The university takes a holistic approach to students who feel they might be unable to continue due to health issues,” Armstrong said. “And though the by-laws of the university’s senate determine that students need to be in good academic standing to have a leave processed, there are still options for those who might not fit this criteria.”
If a student feels the need to request a leave of absence, the Office of the Dean will honor that and work out the details at a later date, Armstrong said.
“We don’t make guarantees of anything, but we certainly work hard to provide students with the support they need to help them get back on track, because ultimately the goal is a degree,” Armstrong said.
Following an increase in suicide rates on college campuses nationwide, the office has sought to make students aware of their options, should they need to take a leave of absence.
“There’s always an option out, and there’s always an option back in,” Eleanor Daugherty, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, said. “There is cancellation before the beginning of the semester, and then there’s withdrawal, which is what applies for LOA requests during the semester.”
When students request a leave of absence, a catalog hold exempts them from needing to fulfill any potentially updated academic requirements upon their return, Armstrong said.
“A great example is the environmental literacy requirement that was required of all students entering the university this year. So a student who took a leave last spring and plans to return next fall will not be held to that academic requirement,” Armstrong said.
The office works closely with the residential team of student health and counseling, acknowledging that some students may not be aware of mental issues affecting them.
“Students’ health and wellness is something that the campus is committed to every day and in every way,” Daugherty said. “Simply having an appointment for counseling does not resolve the challenges and stresses that we face in college, and that’s why we invest in staff that reside in the residence halls.”
While there may be challenges for the university to develop protocols that recognize students at a higher risk, the office agrees that UConn’s current leave of absence policies reflect its institutional commitment to students’ well-being.
“One of our greatest strengths is having a campus that cares about its students,” Daugherty said. “Our faculty, our staff knows that if concerns about a student’s health are lingering, then they must bring it to the attention of our campus care team. They are exceptional in their ability to assess the risks a student has, and being able to effectively engage with that student on a human level.”
Under the consideration that students facing mental health issues might jeopardize their academic performance, Daugherty said the office will assist students before it gets to the point of academic hearings.
“You are always responsible for your academic performance,” Daugherty said. “As an office, what we want to be responsive to is your well-being, and our goal is to get to you before that [academic dismissal].”
Daugherty also noted the bridge between residential life and providing support for students who need it.
“The tools that we have, which are an enormous benefit, is a large residential system. So for example, a student hasn’t been out of their room for a while, the residential system is built to flag that for me, so we can provide you support,” Daugherty said.
Though the Dean of Students Office specializes in handling these cases, Daugherty said doing so is the general responsibility of the campus.
“If we are structured in a way that we believe one office can solely handle this, then we will fail the students,” Daughtery said. “So it’s the office’s role to give the university all the information they need, so they know how to support students.”
Nicholas Martin is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org