Surbhi Bharadwaj

In response to concerns raised by the Yale College Council that students may not know dean’s excuses can be requested for mental health reasons, administrators have updated the official guidelines to provide clarity around the issue.

While previous language listed “incapacitating illness” as an acceptable qualification for a dean’s excuse, new guidelines now use the phrase “incapacitating illness or condition of any kind.” Under the direction of Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun, the University Registrar updated the online Yale College Programs of Study to reflect the changes in early February, according to Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker and Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar.

“While this may seem like a small change, we wanted to resist including the phrase ‘mental health’ in Dean’s Excuse policy — as that would imply that mental health is not already an incapacitating illness,” YCC President Saloni Rao ’20 wrote in an email to the student body on Wednesday. “Rather, this policy change is an important step towards Yale’s recognition of the importance of mental health concerns on our campus.”

According to YCC Senator Aiden Lee ’21, students previously expressed confusion over the term “incapacitating illness,” which he said “lent itself to the interpretation of physical illness” only.

Schenker and Lizarríbar both stressed that the College’s policy for granting dean’s excuses has always applied to instances of mental illness and has not actually changed. Rather, “the new language only serves to make it clearer to students,” Lizarríbar said.

“The YCC had communicated to the [Yale College Dean’s Office] that the former language was having the effect of masking to students just how broad the grounds for a dean’s excuse were,” Schenker wrote in an email to the News. “Although Yale College policy has always included both mental and physical illness, as well as conditions such as disabilities, in its policy and practice, some students felt that more explicit language would be helpful — and the YCDO agreed.”

Lee said that around the time the YCC began discussions regarding expanding circumstances for which varsity team members can receive dean’s excuses, he and other council representatives also articulated to administrators the need for greater clarity in the language of the dean’s excuse policy.

In late January, Yale changed dean’s excuse policies to allow varsity athletes returning to campus from athletic events after midnight to obtain a dean’s excuse for in-class obligations on that day.

Beyond the changes to the guidelines in the Yale College Programs of Study, Lee added that the YCC is also advocating for the standardization of dean’s excuse guidelines across individual residential college websites, which currently include varied wording. In her Wednesday email, Rao said the Yale College Dean’s Office is working towards this goal.

Chun told the News that he “hope[s] that the new language will further encourage students to seek help from their residential college deans.”

Schenker and Lizarríbar highlighted that students should approach their residential college deans whenever they have difficulties fulfilling academic obligations, even if they do not believe that their situation qualifies for a dean’s excuse based on the language of the policy.

“I would always encourage students to talk to their deans, especially if they’re not sure whether or not their circumstances are grounds for a dean’s excuse,” Lizarríbar said. “Even in cases when they may not have grounds, there may be other ways to address the situation and support them. It’s good to be in conversation with your dean.”

Asha Prihar |

Asha Prihar served as managing editor of the News during the 2019-20 academic year. Before that, she covered community service, Yale's professional schools and undergraduate student life as a staff reporter. She is a senior in Silliman College studying political science.