Tim Tai, Staff Photographer

After years of advocacy, Yale has amended its oft-criticized withdrawal policies to expedite the reinstatement process for students who leave campus mid-semester. 

Per the new policies, students will no longer be required to complete outside coursework or to interview with the Chair of the Committee on Reinstatement as conditions of their return to Yale. Changes to interview policies are effective immediately, while changes to coursework requirements will go into effect for the 2022-23 academic year. The University’s Reinstatement FAQ website was updated on April 1 to reflect the new changes, but no other announcement has been made.

“The biggest thing for me is the sense that students feel reluctant to take a withdrawal when their health or other circumstances really would make a withdrawal very beneficial to their wellbeing and to their healing,” Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun told the News. “We really want students to take a withdrawal and not feel any stigma or any kind of barrier associated with it.” 

Although students are permitted to take four semester-long leaves of absence during their time at Yale — a cap that has been temporarily lifted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — those who opt to leave campus after the 15th day of the semester must formally withdraw from Yale College. Withdrawals can occur for academic, medical, personal, disciplinary or financial reasons, and students who withdraw are barred from campus without permission from either their residential college dean or the Dean of Student Affairs. 

Unlike students who take leaves of absence, those that withdraw from Yale are not automatically granted a place at the University upon their return. Before Friday, requirements for reinstatement included an application form, two letters of support, a personal statement, interviews with members of the reinstatement committee, the equivalent of two term courses at an accredited four-year university or Yale-sanctioned community college and, in the case of students on medical withdrawal, documented treatment from a clinician. 

Now, the base requirement for general reinstatement will only include an application form, letters of support and a personal statement. Students applying for reinstatement after medical withdrawals must still receive documented treatment from a clinician and interview with either the director of Student Health, the chief of Mental Health and Counseling or their designee.  

The University’s reinstatement policies have long been a lightning rod for advocacy surrounding Yale’s investment in mental health. Last year, the weeks after the death of a Yale College student by suicide saw renewed discussion of Yale’s reinstatement policies, as alumni and current students shared their experiences and grievances with the process en masse. 

Mental health advocacy groups, in particular Elis for Rachael and Mental Health Justice at Yale, have prioritized loosening University requirements for reinstatement. In a petition circulated this November, Elis for Rachael called for the University to “Eliminate costly, non-medical roadblocks to reinstatement to Yale College following a medical withdrawal.”

Willow Sylvester ’22, who has advocated for changes to Yale’s mental health policies through both Elis for Rachael and Mental Health Justice at Yale, said she views the changes as a victory for the mental health advocacy groups that have called for them over the past year. 

“This is definitely a win,” Sylvester said. “It would be more of a win if they could give credit to the student groups and the alumni who worked towards this. But this is going to have a tangible impact on students — not having to pay money to take courses, just being able to focus on their own recovery.”

But Sylvester noted that while she was “very, very happy” about the policy changes, she was surprised at the University’s decision not to announce them more publicly. 

“It feels really disappointing that they’re not publicizing the changes, and, especially, that they’re not talking at all about the advocacy from students and from alumni and from Rachael’s loved ones about these changes,” Sylvester said. 

Discussing the potential rollout of the policy in mid-March, Chun told the News that the policy changes “affect so few students” that he did not then know whether the update would be announced via an email or a change to the website. Senior Associate Dean of Strategic Initiatives and Communications Paul McKinley did not respond to requests for clarification on the lack of a community-wide announcement.

The slate of changes marks the most dramatic overhaul to Yale’s reinstatement policies since 2016, when the name of the process was changed to “reinstatement” from “readmission.” The 2016 host of reforms, overseen by then-Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway, also included changes to reinstatement application deadlines, an elimination of the application fee for reinstatement and changes to financial aid for students who take medical withdrawals. 

Unlike this round of changes, the 2016 reforms were announced in an email and preceded by an extensive report from the Yale College Withdrawal and Readmission Review Committee. The committee released a public list of recommendations.

Chief of Yale Mental Health and Counseling Paul Hoffman told the News that while the new changes to the reinstatement process have been in discussion for “some time,” the University has focused on honing specific policy updates over the past few months. 

“These changes are geared toward reducing barriers to reinstatement and making it easier for students, regardless of economic status, to feel confident in requesting medical withdrawals,” Hoffman said. “The goal is for all students who take a medical withdrawal to return and be ready to fully engage academically and socially. I think this removes a potential economic barrier to reinstatement which may not be reflective of a student’s readiness to return.”  

Yale’s previous requirement that students on withdrawal complete academic courses was often viewed as a financial burden, as the University’s financial aid does not extend to courses taken at other institutions during a withdrawal. 

Withdrawn students who remain away from full-time academic work for more than four terms must still fulfill coursework requirements, according to the University FAQ page. The page also states that reinstatement may be conditional on the completion of coursework in “some circumstances,” but Chun told the News that these cases would likely be rare. 

“It’s not going to be mandatory for everybody, which is the case right now,” Chun said. “I think it’s going to go a long way. I think it addresses the issue that it’s a financial burden for students on aid because Yale doesn’t provide financial aid for courses you take on withdrawal. There’s a lot of good there by just removing that requirement.” 

McKinley told the News that while an interview with the reinstatement committee would no longer be a requirement for most reinstatements, students could still use those who would have interviewed them in the past — such as members of the Yale College Dean’s office — as a resource to discuss the process of reinstatement. 

The decision to remove the interview with the reinstatement committee, Chun said, was intended to make the process of reinstatement “a little bit more automatic.”

“I do think that the changes to the medical withdrawal policy will make it easier for students to ask for a medical withdrawal,” Hoffman said.

Looking ahead, Sylvester said, mental health advocates plan to continue their push to further reform the reinstatement process. She pointed specifically to increasing campus access for students on withdrawal as a change that could ease the sense of alienation that she said students who withdraw often experience.

Additionally, students have long called for greater transparency around financial aid status and healthcare access during withdrawals.

“Now is not the time for activism [and] advocacy groups to have a light touch because ‘Yale is really trying,’” Elis for Rachael organizer Alicia Floyd agreed. “Now is the time to dig in and push for what’s right because we might actually get somewhere.” 

Yale’s full reinstatement requirements are available online

Correction, April 13: This article has been updated with the correct class year for Willow Sylvester. 

Lucy Hodgman is the editor-in-chief and president of the News. She previously covered student life and the Yale College Council. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a junior in Grace Hopper majoring in English.