Policy changes may be coming to help students with mental health issues

Students have to make a wide array of decisions, some of which make them want to run and hide. Adding a time crunch to making such choices equals a lot of stress.

Sometimes students can't make the right decision in time, which results in a small notation that follows students through their time at university and beyond. For several weeks at the beginning of term, UBC students are at full liberty to drop courses. After the withdrawal date, if you drop a course, it’s noted on your transcript by a W.

Adding more flexibility to this process is one of a host of changes to academic policies that the AMS and other campus partners, such as the Mental Health and Well-being Commissioner as well as Access and Diversity, are looking into.

“The AMS [and others] … have worked all throughout last year to research and do background information on a number of academic policies … at the university that can change,” said AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Jenna Omassi.

One thing that the various campus partners are considering is a later withdrawal date, or giving students the option of getting a W with an E (standing for extenuating circumstances).

“So if you have an extenuating circumstance it’ll have a different notation on your transcript … So grad schools can look at that and know that there was a legitimate reason why you had to drop the course,” said Omassi.

While such changes could benefit the entire UBC community, students afflicted with mental health issues are a particular demographic taken into significant consideration.

“Some of these policies haven’t changed in a long time and when they were made, maybe they didn’t have mental health in mind and so we find that a lot of these do place barriers on students’ mental health, and stress level in general,” said Lina Castro, the AMS Mental Health and Well Being Commissioner, who was doing the research on possible changes and what other institutions were doing in terms of their own academic policies.

An ad hoc senate committee was created to bring the discussion around policy into the academic domain. According to the Director of Access and Diversity, Janet Mee, these are truly preliminary discussions and any ultimate decisions will be the responsibility of senate.

"I would anticipate that this year’s student senators will play a very significant role in bringing that work to the forefront," said Mee.

There are several other aspects of these preliminary conversations. According to Castro, something else that is under consideration is a fall reading break, which could coincide with the period when UBC counselling services sees the most students.

“It seems that the highest traffic for counselling services is right around November and October,” said Castro. “[A] short break in that time would be very beneficial for students, especially students coming in, really stressed out, getting adjusted to their first year courses.”

As well, policy 73, known as Academic Accommodation for Students With Disabilities, is under review this year. According to Mee, this policy was initially drafted in 1999 and considering that "usually policies get reviewed every five years … it’s really out of date."

Finally, Omassi would like to see more definitive standards for what needs to be included in a syllabus.

“There’s no actual policy on syllabi and what needs to be included, and in terms of well being and mental health and success, a syllabus is very important, especially in laying out expectations for the class, and assessment for the class,” said Omassi.

As Mee notes, changing academic policies is complex and there is always the option to make exceptions for students, but "the better option is to address the systemic issue."