Yale University announced changes to its policies to support students’ mental health, including allowing students to take leave of absence.
The Connecticut-based Ivy League school said in an email to students Wednesday that they can now take medical leave instead of withdrawing.
In addition, students are now eligible for four vacation periods, up from two, can transition to health insurance supplementary coverage while on vacation, and have access to campus resources, such as the library, while on vacation.
“I hope no student has to deal with a situation like this, but some of you might,” Yale Dean Pericle Lewis said in an email, citing situations such as family emergencies and illnesses. “If you do, I hope these revised policies will alleviate any concerns about your student status and allow you (and those who support you) to focus on what matters.”
Yale has been reviewing its withdrawal policy since September, the president of Yale said in a statement last November.
The new twist comes less than two months after a lawsuit was filed against Yale, accusing it of discriminating against students with mental health disabilities, failing to provide necessary accommodations and forcing them to drop out.
The lawsuit, filed Nov. 30, involves the accounts of two current students, three former students and a nonprofit, Elis for Rachael, on behalf of dozens of others.
The nonprofit was launched last year following the suicide of freshman Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum, who considered the consequences of dropping out of Yale in multiple online posts before her death.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that the university’s withdrawal policies create a punitive rather than supportive environment for students with mental health disorders, preventing many from seeking help. Their accounts detail the “traumatic” experience of being forced out of school and the obstacles they had to face when returning to school.
If students disclose their mental health disorder and exhibit severe symptoms when they seek support, universities often put pressure on them to withdraw voluntarily until they have been at least one semester away and can apply for reinstatement. If the student refuses, the university’s policy allows for “involuntary withdrawal,” forcing the student to take a leave of absence without “respecting the treating professional or considering whether withdrawal would cause harm,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also claims that some students may never seek the help they need because they fear they will be subject to the university’s withdrawal policy if they learn about their mental health disorder.
The lawsuit comes weeks after a Washington Post article detailed similar allegations by students and alumni.
In addition to making it easier to take sick leave, the changes Yale announced Thursday also make it easier for students to come back from a leave of absence, the Washington Post first reported.
Students no longer need letters of recommendation, and the university has also removed a requirement for students to maintain “constructive work” while on sabbatical, according to Lewis’ email. Students on individual withdrawals and sick leave are also no longer required to pass all courses in the first two semesters upon return.
Yale’s latest announced changes come amid data showing mental health needs among students on college campuses across the country remain low.
Nearly three-quarters of college students reported severe to moderate psychological distress in 2021, according to a national survey.
The Mental Health Study surveyed more than 350,000 college students over eight years and found that more than 60 percent of college students met criteria for at least one mental health problem during the 2020-2021 academic year, according to Monitor, a journal of the American Psychological Association.
Amanda Su of ABC News contributed to this report.