F res h fro m my mandatory vacation from Penn, I have spoken of the benefits one can find on a leave of absence and how needing one does not doom your academic career.
However, the bureaucratic nature of academia can make the leave process appear daunting for some students like myself, who find themselves in the position of needing to simultaneously resolve class incompletes while proving to the university that they are medically or otherwise fit to resume studies. The true test of my improved health, I found, was handling the return process itself.
A year sounds like a long time, but it took me most of that time to find a working medical treatment. Then, I had to address my classes or risk not being able to declare my major. In order to receive medical clearance, I had to mediate between my clinician and the Counseling and Psychological Services staff, who evaluated my current health status. I spent a lot of time making repeated calls, emails and campus visits to ensure the various conditions set by Penn for my return were met, and frequently worried about my ability to come back.
The Penn community is very large, hosting 24,630 undergraduate and graduate students as of last fall. Perhaps this is why in some ways, the relationship to our academic committees can be a little impersonal. The decision regarding my academic standing was made by people I had not gotten to meet face-to-face. Even after making plans with my family and College advisers, I still felt a little lost.
I’m sure other students have had similar experiences. According to Katrina Glanzer, an adviser in the College Office, about 5 percent of each graduating class of College undergraduates takes at least one semester off from their studies. This is roughly the size of the entire group of graduating BBB majors. With so many people taking semesters off — whether they’re pursuing internships or taking care of personal or family issues — it’s imperative for the University to ensure a smooth return for students transitioning back to Penn.
However, this does not undermine the need for students to be proactive with their concerns. Penn, like any other university, treats its students as independent adults. But with that expected maturity comes the responsibility of initiative. Will Fenton, an assistant director of graduate admissions in SEAS, said that one of the biggest problems he has seen in his career is students not taking advantage of their available resources in times of difficulty.
“I think the main thing is that many students don’t ... talk to any of [their advisers, professors and chairs] until they are in very deep and/or beyond some basic assistance. Frequently, I found that if a student had talked with their faculty or their adviser early on, their problems (at least academic ones) could have been addressed with far less drastic solutions.”
I was convinced that only I could solve my own problems, and that was what it meant to be responsible. I feared others’ judgment, and it was only when professors and advisers began asking questions that I explained my situation. By then, it was usually too late. Even on leave, I made matters more complicated by hesitating to ask questions and get assistance to begin the transition back to Penn.
There were many times during my own self-chastisement when I wondered if I really was being punished by the University. But ultimately, I was given a second chance that I may not have received elsewhere. There is definitely room for improving the leave process on the administration’s part. But I cannot stress enough the importance of speaking up. The initial fear or embarrassment is minuscule compared to how much the situation can easily spiral out of control.
Through all of the obstacles I faced on my return, I am most grateful to Katrina Glanzer for helping me navigate what seemed like an overwhelming process and being someone I could turn to for support beyond classroom matters. When things get messy, do not be afraid to make your voice heard, even in a place as large as P enn.
Katiera Sordjan is a College junior from New York. Her email address is email@example.com. “The Melting Pot” appears every Thursday.Comments powered by Disqus
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