About one in 20 Harvard students takes a leave of absence every year for a variety of involuntary and voluntary reasons. While the decision to leave can be a challenging and complex one, lamentably the process to come back can prove to be just as thorny and stressful—particularly for the students who have to navigate the complex logistical barriers and administrative hoops that await them upon their return to Harvard. As students on leave continue to struggle with obstacles in returning to campus, Harvard must ensure that it remains a welcoming environment by finding ways to facilitate a successful and productive re-entry process.
Currently, the responsibilities and tasks required to return to Harvard rest far too much on the shoulders of students themselves. Students face extensive obstacles such as securing housing on campus by the appropriate deadlines, earning the votes of the Administrative Board, and passing health assessments, among others. Though the College prides itself on facilitating leaves of absence, this onerous process may deter students from taking advantage of a leave of absence at all.
Administrators must also consider instituting changes to the current re-entry process to improve the transition for students returning to campus. One way to address these difficulties would be to establish better communication and outreach so that students have more contact with a House official or another affiliate of the College during their time off. Some students on leave commented that Harvard initiated almost no communication. Efforts to reach out to students would alleviate some of the burden that students face when managing complicated deadlines and paperwork. These changes would further ensure that the students’ House communities remain up-to-date on their plans and are ready to welcome them back to campus upon their return.
Taking a leave of absence is often a valuable—but by no means effortless—experience. It will take continued conversation between students and administrators to improve the transition for those on leave. These conversations may be difficult, especially considering the stigma around certain motives for leaves, but they are necessary.
Given these preconceived notions surrounding mental health and the various other reasons that lead students to take a leave of absence, we especially commend the students who have shared their experiences taking time off. Their candor sheds light on the benefits and challenges of a reality that so many members of our community go through during their time at the College.If Harvard is concerned about ensuring a sense of belonging for all students in its community, it must realize that this community extends to those on leave as well. Moving forward, the College must continue to improve the ways in which it welcomes back these students to campus.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at this meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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