Coming back and taking leave

Dawn Hudson '77-3 started thinking about taking time off from Harvard during her sophomore year, but at least at first, the notion was a fleeting one, and during the summer after that year she made no alternative plans, having decided to return to school. What had put the idea in her mind to begin with was a vague disaffection about her life at Harvard and a gradual realization of a lack of confidence in herself and in her own abilities.

"Starting freshman year, my self-confidence began to decrease on all levels, particularly with respect to academics and my personal life. I think I started to become aware of it sophomore year, but it didn't seem to represent too much of a problem" Hudson says now. She had come to Harvard from the public schools of Hot Springs, Arkansas, and on a superficial level, her initial insecurities probably seemed to her and to others to be part of a fairly common syndrome. Many of those who arrive freshman year from far away places, very much alone, after outstanding careers in high school, experience periods of self-doubt and even depression, as Hudson did.

According to conventional wisdom, these problems tend to disappear with time, as people begin to establish themselves and define their lives.

But in Hudson's case the self-doubt did not vanish. After a moderately happy first two years, junior year came, and Hudson's life began to come apart at the seams. "I couldn't do my work, I was failing my tutorial, an important personal relationship had fallen apart, and around November I just couldn't see lasting out the semester. Most everyone I spoke to was encouraging about taking time off, although I was also given a sense that I shouldn't just abandon the semester. So I decided to stick it out for the last few weeks, and I got a lot of support from friends, from my senior tutor, and from the Bureau of Study Counsel."

Hudson also tried seeing a psychiatrist at the University Health Services, but that didn't prove to be much help. "I had one appointment, but I just didn't feel comfortable with the whole thing and never went back. Maybe I wasn't ready for it, or didn't go into it with a broad enough outlook, but in any case, seeing a psychiatrist didn't work out." She did finish out the semester, although she received an unsatisfactory in her tutorial, and during reading period she began making plans for her leave of absence.

A Government major, Hudson knew she wanted to work in some area of government, and just at the right time, a job in Washington with Senator John McClellan (D-Arkansas) became available. She stayed with the job right up until a few weeks ago, and in many respects it turned out to be exactly what she needed. Although at first she was assigned to mundane office tasks, as is often the lot of interns in large capitol offices, she was soon given responsibility for research on solar energy projects, a particular interest of McClellan's. Between reading documents, writing reports, and traveling back to Arkansas for hearings, she became involved in her work and conscious of a return of confidence in herself, particularly in her writing.

Originally she intended to remain away from Harvard for an entire year, but one result of her experience in Washington was a renewed interest in academics, an awareness of what she felt she wanted to study and would need to know for a career in government. Feeling that from a personal standpoint she had accomplished what she wanted to, having regained the sense of security about herself which had slipped away during her years at Harvard, Hudson decided to return this fall--she will do so without any serious anxieties, and with a certainty that things are now back in perspective, that her period of crisis will not recurr.

A student who decides to interrupt his or her course of study must have that decision ratified by the Administrative Board, a permanent body composed of the dean of the College and all House senior tutors. The University keeps no statistics on why students take time off, but a substantial number, if not a majority of those who do, do not consider themselves in serious difficulty at Harvard, either academic or personal. Most therefore, will do no more than discuss their plans with the Senior tutor of their House, and the senior tutor will then represent the student's case before the Ad Board.

The route which Hudson followed, in the process of making her decision about leaving, might be considered fairly typical for the category of leave-takers who do feel themselves in trouble. The Bureau of Study Counsel serves as the major point of consultation for those students considering leaves, whose problems either impair academic performance or are specifically academic in character. Those whose crises are of a purely personal nature and are not facing academic difficulties are generally referred elsewhere, usually to the University Health Services (UHS) for consultation with a psychiatrist, according to Kiyo Morimoto, the associate director of the bureau.

Morimoto says that he assumes that a number of students do receive help at the UHS and the bureau simultaneously, but since there is no direct consultation on cases or comparative analysis done by UHS and the bureau, he cannot be sure. Morimoto feels that the bureau is positively disposed toward leaves of absence. "What we try to do for students who are considering leaving is give them a context in which they can make sense out of the advice they have received from various quarters." Morimoto says the end of the draft removed an important constraint on men considering time off; he adds that the pressure on students owing to heavy competition for places in graduate and professional schools has increased markedly in recent years, and suggests that this has resulted in more leaves of absence due to stress and self-doubt.

But Morimoto also says, perhaps surprisingly, that while no statistics on this question are kept, he believes that most of those who come to the bureau considering a