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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Taking Leave Can Lead to Unforeseen Consequences

<ir="ltr">Every term, about 35 Carleton students choose to take medical or non-medical leave, according to Assistant Dean of Students Sindy Fleming. To take leave from Carleton a student must complete a request form online and be approved to take leave. Before a student takes time off, they are advised to speak with Fleming and other relevant offices or faculty on campus, like their academic advisor and Student Financial Services. A student can take up to three terms off and students must apply to return to campus with a statement of readiness and an appointment with Fleming.

Paula Mattlin ’19, a student who has taken medical leave, said that the “Dean of Students was quite helpful getting me on leave, and very difficult with getting me back off leave.” Xe described feeling like there were a lot of forms and different parts of the process, including xeir medical provider needing to give information to SHAC and writing a personal statement.

“The stress of dealing with whether I was going to be able to come back after medical leave, that in itself was detrimental to my mental health,” Mattlin ’19 explained. Xe was not officially told xe would be able to return for the next term until less than a week before the term began, which could create problems for students needing to buy plane tickets at the last minute.

Anne Guttridge ’19 took a term off in her senior fall after a serious illness sent her to the hospital for two and a half weeks at the end of August. Because she was off campus, the whole process was online, hindering her ability to contact the appropriate faculty and talk with the Dean in person. Guttridge admits that she cannot entirely remember the days that she decided to take leave but that she remembered feeling like she was left somewhat alone to figure out the process with her family.

Guttridge ’19 said, “they didn’t tell me anything about what it would look like. I had to figure it out online with my mom. I was fresh out of the hospital. I think I submitted it actually when I was in the hospital… I was very upset I had to do this.” Guttridge expressed frustration with the online system to apply to take a term off. “It was really confusing to navigate the website and know, ‘Do I have my forms in and signed by a doctor?’ Then, coming back making sure I had everything that I needed and even that — on the website — was not super clear. Do you need a doctor’s note and psychiatrist’s note?”

On her return, despite these initial challenges, she said that she appreciated the Dean’s office setting up a meeting in SHAC for her more easily and quickly than she could have on her own. She said she had felt very supported by her comps advisor and the SOAN department in general. Much of Carleton’s schedule ends up based on the idea of a student working through Carleton in twelve consecutive terms. Once you get off of that track, each student is working on an adjusted schedule that is specific to them.

Mattlin needed to take medical leave twice, placing xem two terms behind the regular twelve-term schedule. At the end of xeir freshman year, xe took spring term off for mental health care. Last term, xe went home during a family emergency. Mattlin, originally a member of the class of 2018, is now listed as a class of 2019 student. “It pushes you into another class year and that has caused a lot of problems for me actually,” xe said. A large portion of these challenges stem from not being on relevant email lists.

According to Mattlin, xe missed critical information about Comps, major declaration and the writing portfolio. “By the time that the class year behind me got those emails, they were not relevant to me,” xe said. “You’re constantly playing catch-up because you are not getting the information that you should be getting,” said Mattlin. “So when you come back from medical leave, it is at least 1.3 times as hard as it was not having done that. I missed so much information and I don’t even know that I missed it.”

One of the most poignant examples for Mattlin involved the Comps process for xeir Pyschology major. On the wrong email list for sophomore majors instead of junior majors, xe missed the junior Comps meeting, where majors learned critical information about advising and the seminar class. Due to xeir status as a non-junior major, xe could not register last spring for the proper Comps courses for the fall. Xe did not, therefore, receive the course emails over the summer, which gave instructions for the beginning of the term. When xe returned back to campus, unaware of the work done over the summer by xeir fellow majors, xe was already behind.

The consequences, like confusion in the Comps process, of being on a different track are not always clear to students when they take a term off. When Guttridge returned to school she learned that because of her term off she would not be allowed to walk with the Class of 2018. “The thought never even occurred to me that I would not be able to walk. I talked to my advisors in the SOAN department and I knew I would have to come back for two required courses that I had missed in the fall,” she said. “So I just assumed, I only have one term left, why wouldn’t I be able to walk in commencement with my class? I have a huge connection to 2018 because it is my class and it just felt like a very important ceremonial moment that I wanted to be a part of.”

Guttridge petitioned the Academic Standing Committee, explaining that it had not been a choice she had control over to take her term off. Faculty from the SOAN department wrote letters of support explaining that she was in good academic standing. Over spring break, however, she found her petition had been denied. As she explained, the committee said other students might be uncomfortable with her presence when she had not finished her required credits before the ceremony.  She also said the committee was concerned she would not return for the fall term after completing the commencement ceremony.

Dean Cathy Carlson, Coordinator of the Academic Standing Committee and Junior and Senior Class Dean, explained that a student’s ability to walk at commencement is decided by the Academic Standing Committee members, who make a final review of the records of all seniors. She states that, “the ASC may permit 12th term seniors who have not completed all degree requirements to participate in the commencement ceremony that year.  

In these cases, students’ names will be designated with an asterisk on the commencement program.”Carlson also points to the Student Handbook’s statement that, “students who are required to return to Carleton to complete their degrees are not eligible to participate in commencement.” Carlson says there is no circumstance where a student is allowed to walk with their class if they need to do one more term on campus.

Guttridge was very unhappy with the process and the decision. She explained that the ceremony with the 2018 class had emotional importance to her even without the diploma. “It’s purely symbolic. I am really not asking for much and it doesn’t affect anyone there except for me.”

Guttridge pointed out that in larger schools it is possible to have multiple commencement ceremonies each year, but because of the size of Carleton, those kinds of accomodating systems do not exist. “In my mind, Carleton is small. They should be able to accommodate individual requests especially when it is not related to disciplinary action… it should be monitored on a case-by-case basis. It was very frustrating to me. My professors and my advisors are all very frustrated by it.”

In addition to many of these challenges in communication and clarity, Mattlin has noticed a stigma against medical leave on campus. “There’s definitely some stigma,” xe said. “[Fellow students] will treat it as though you took a vacation for a term or something, which is very much not what happens.”

According to Mattlin, “people will ask for more information in a setting that is not appropriate.” Mattlin offered some examples, including classroom introductions where xe needed to explain xeir complicated answer to “what is your class year?” In this situation, for instance, “people will get uncomfortable when I mention it.” “A lot more of the stigma I think comes from people that are younger,” xe said. “By the time you get to senior year, you’ve met more people who have taken medical leave and probably have had more rough terms so you can imagine what could be going on with somebody.”

Despite all of the challenges and moments of stigma, “it was the best academic decision I ever made and the best decision for my personal life too,” Mattlin said. “In hindsight, it was not me putting my life on hold but in actuality it was the exact opposite.”

If a student is considering medical leave, Fleming offered some advice: “Every student’s situation is unique; therefore, they should come to the Dean of Students Office to talk with a dean about why they want to take a leave and discuss their available options.”

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