In campus discussion about Yale’s policies for withdrawal and readmission, students and administrators alike have focused on how to make a difficult process less alienating.
One area of explicit focus has been on a seemingly simple issue of semantics.
During an open forum on Feb. 25 in which students were invited to voice their concerns about campus mental health, administrators highlighted potential problems with the word “readmission” and its implications about students’ relationship to the University. English professor John Rogers, who chairs a committee tasked with re-evaluating Yale’s withdrawal and readmission policies, said during the panel that use of the word is under discussion, as it suggests withdrawn students are no longer Yale students — a notion that he added “simply isn’t true.”
“When I’m meeting with a student, one of the first things I try to do is say that readmission is nothing like admissions in the first place. You are a Yale student,” Lorraine Siggins, director of Yale Mental Health and Counseling, added during the panel. “The terminology is not just misleading but [also] creates a negative impression.”
But many withdrawn students said that a word change would do little to address their underlying concerns surrounding their Yale-affiliated status. According to students interviewed who have previously withdrawn from the University, a lack of access to normal student resources often exacerbates feelings of “alienation.”
“The term is something that is indicative of a much larger problem,” said a student, who had gone through the withdrawal and readmission processes and asked to remain anonymous. “I don’t want anyone to think that just by changing the term they’re making a step forward.”
In shaping policies surrounding withdrawn students, universities must often balance policies that come from the legal, medical and academic worlds, said Peter Lake, director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law.
The variety of mandates often put policymakers in a difficult position, he said.
“There’s a lot of overlapping accountability in a difficult issue like this,” he said. “But it’s clearly a mistake to focus on one area. It’s not entirely law, it’s not entirely medicine and it’s certainly not entirely student affairs. It can give you a bit of a headache.”
At Yale, students lose access to a host of Yale resources when they withdraw, including library databases, their “yale.edu” email addresses and swipe access to campus buildings.
These policies cause withdrawn students to believe that they are no longer considered Yale students in the eyes of the University, said Stewart McDonald ’15, who withdrew in fall 2013 and was readmitted last semester.
“Many administrators like to say that they still consider [withdrawn students] students in some spiritual way,” McDonald said. “Yet they systematically deny withdrawn students all campus resources… These false statements of inclusiveness on the part of administrators are perhaps meant as an expression of compassion toward students, but they mean nothing when withdrawn students are both de facto and de jure no longer students.”
However, administrators at peer institutions defended universities’ decisions to withhold certain resources from members of their communities who are taking time off.
Greg Eells, director of Cornell University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, said a loss of access to campus resources should be expected when students take time away. Cornell students on leaves of absence also lose access to campus buildings and other resources — a change that Eells said students should expect, as they are no longer paying for access to those resources.
“A [health] leave is the student initiating it and saying, ‘For these reasons, I can no longer be a student,’” he said. “We make it very clear when you sign the health leave that you’re telling us you can no longer be a student. It’s something we make very straightforward up front.”
David Stirk, dean of Butler College at Princeton University, agreed, citing legal reasons for denying withdrawn students certain resources. There is a legal definition of enrollment, he said, and if students do not meet that definition, they must have a different level of access.
The extent to which universities restrict access to resources for temporarily un-enrolled students varies by campus.
At Yale, students who purchase Yale Health Special Care coverage will retain that coverage for a maximum of 30 days after they withdraw, according to the Yale Health website. Students who are covered only by basic Yale Health insurance will have their Yale Health membership terminated retroactively to the beginning of the semester, and any services rendered will be billed on a fee-for-service basis.
But at Cornell and Brown, students on leave are allowed to retain their insurance for the remainder of the year, with Cornell students given the option to purchase an additional year as well. At Princeton, residential college deans can help students retain access to library and career services — a recent change that was made partially in response to heightened campus awareness of withdrawal and mental health, Stirk said.
Campus email accounts can also pose a problem, students said. Yale students who are not actively registered are not eligible for Yale email accounts, according to the Information Technology Services website. McDonald said he was told that his email would be deactivated while he was withdrawn, and although the suspension never occurred, he was not told why.
Rogers said some students may continue to have access to their emails after they withdraw because ITS only updates student email deactivation twice a year.
Still, the anonymous student said, increasing resource access for withdrawn students can be an opportunity to shape broader campus attitudes about mental health.
“No one is entitled to the University’s resources, but I think what we have to think about is, what kind of school do we really want to be?” she said. “Do we want to be the school that is … completely alienating [withdrawn students] from everything they’ve helped build up while they’re here?”