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Students Leaves of Absence On the Rise Across Colleges

Campuses across the country have been experiencing an uptick in student leaves of absence, and the 5Cs have become a part of that reality. From taking breaks from the academic rigors of college for self-discovery to treating mental health issues, students are taking leaves of absences for a variety of reasons.

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“It’s a very consistent picture with national data, and I doubt that Pomona or any of the other Claremonts are out of the norm,” Jan Collins-Eaglin, Pomona College Associate Dean of Students for Personal Success and Wellness, said.

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Student news outlets from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University have shared that the number of students on leaves of absences is on the rise at their respective institutions. In fact, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported in their “Quite Frankly” podcast that one in 20 students from the class of 2013 report have taken a leave of absence, many due to mental health issues.

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“I felt pressured by administration to take a leave,” Jessi Ramos, a Scripps College fifth year who took a leave of absence to address their mental health, said.

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Ramos spent their first of two leaves of absences meeting with a therapist, working at a retail store, and taking community college classes. In Ramos’s close friend group of four, all of whom are disabled and three of whom are low-income, everybody had taken a leave of absence.

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“With my friends, (there) has been a lot of mental health issues. Being bogged down in this institution is what gets to you. I think I’d encourage people to take a leave if they need to,” Ramos said.

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Students reveal it can be difficult catching up with school work after a leave of absence.

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“I’ve been playing catch up. I was severely overloaded. My advisor was out for my blood,” Ramos said. “I felt really overwhelmed and like I wouldn’t be proud of the work that I’d be putting out.”

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A myriad of reasons contribute to the uptick in student leaves of absence, but mental health remains a commonality of those interviewed.

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“According to the Journal of Psychiatry, one out of five students will have some sort of mental health issue before they graduate, and that’s increasing. This is a nationwide trend, and that also contributes to leaves of absences. Monsour is increasing their staffing,” Collins-Eaglin said. “There are so many reasons; I’ve just skimmed the surface,”

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Not uncommon, however, is the phenomena of students of marginalized identities being pushed to take leaves of absences.

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“I don’t think that all students of color are being pushed to take leave of absences, but I do know low-income POCs who have faced mental health/social/academic/financial problems do because of a lack of institutional support, virtually forcing them to take a leave of absence,” Jazmin Ocampo PO '17, a Posse scholar and Mellon Mays fellow, said.

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In regards to this phenomena, Senqué Little-Poole PO '19 said, “A lot of students will take an incomplete instead of taking leaves of absences. Some people do come back from that; others don’t.”

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Sara Gonzales-Bautista SC '18 said that she has felt pushed to take leaves of absence because of campus racial tensions and difficulties in transitioning to college.

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“The reason I haven’t taken leaves of absences is because my parents were pretty much like 'You can’t, we can’t afford this, and you just need to be a trooper,'” Gonzales-Bautista said.

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Other students, like Margot Mattson, a Pitzer College fourth year, and Avery Neil, a Pitzer second year, took leaves of absences for personal discovery.

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“Feeling the sophomore slump and purposelessness” and seeking a non-Pitzer abroad experience, Mattson seized an opportunity to travel with her brother and to do some much-needed self-discovery.

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“It was the best thing I ever did,” Neil said. “I wasn’t ready for four years of college after having a very jam-packed high school experience. I worked really hard in high school; I didn’t sleep a lot, and I was just exhausted coming into [college]. I took a leave of absence, because I wanted to go travel and to understand myself and the world a bit more, and that’s what I did.”

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Attending Pitzer on scholarship, Neil took on a myriad of jobs to fund her travel during her leave of absence.

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“I was a barista, a hostess, a babysitter, a line chef, and I did marketing assistance and copy editing. Whatever was paying was what I was doing,” Neil said. 

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“People complain about Pitzer, and I used to complain about Pitzer. But I didn’t realize how great it is until I left. I like to joke with my friends about the saying, 'You need to stop and smell the roses.' Well, I’ve learned to stop and appreciate the cacti,” Neil said. 

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All the students interviewed who had taken a leave of absence reported that their leaves of absence had a positive impact on their mental health and academic success.

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Correction: in a previous version of this article, it was written that students of marginalzied identities were “encouraged” to take leaves of absence, rather than the originally intended “pushed.” This drastically changed the meaning of the sentence and has been corrected.

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