All-student advisory board to assess medical leave of absence process


Daily file photo by David Lee

Emily Ash speaks at an ASG Senate meeting. ASG and SASS are partnering to improve experiences for students taking medical leaves of absence

Cameron Cook, Assistant Campus Editor

Associated Student Government and Student Assistance and Support Services are partnering to create an advisory board to improve experiences for students who take medical leaves of absence.

At Northwestern, students can take medical leaves of absence to have a physical or mental health condition treated. Leaves are reserved for conditions that impair a student’s ability to function “safely and successfully” as a member of the NU community, according to the SASS website.

SASS, made up of administrators and staff from various departments, helps students experiencing crises — including impairing health conditions — navigate the University’s various administrative offices when they’re “stuck or don’t know where to turn,” said Mona Dugo, the senior associate dean of students.

ASG President Emily Ash and Rebecca Lazer, the ASG vice president for health and wellness, approached Dugo about a partnership last month, Ash said, because they wanted to know more about students’ perspectives on the process.

Although Ash said Northwestern’s leave of absence policy is considered “less harmful” than those of other universities, which in some cases force students to take leaves of absence, that doesn’t mean NU’s process can’t be changed for the better.

While ASG wants the University to be on par with peer institutions like Ivy League and other Big Ten schools, the board will be more focused on gathering information on student experiences at NU “rather than looking outward,” she added.

The advisory board’s goals include destigmatizing leaves of absence and potentially revamping the reinstatement process for students whose leaves are over, Ash said.

“There’s a certain amount of stigma attached to medical leave,” she said. “This is a really healthy step for students in certain circumstances to take. I’ve seen really interesting approaches taken by our peers to create more ease around the reinstatement and normalize medical leave from the get-go.”

Reinstatement can sometimes be isolating, Ash added, and one of the board’s goals is to help build a support system for students whose leaves are over.

SASS is seeking to form a stronger community for reistated students and developing a partnership with Academic Support and Learning Advancement, Dugo said, so that students returning from leave feel less isolated. In addition, the advisory board will aim to make both taking leaves of absence and the reinstatement process more transparent, Dugo said.

ASG and SASS will finalize the students who will sit on the board by Thursday, Ash said. The board will be composed entirely of students and facilitated by ASG and SASS.

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Twitter: @cam_e_cook

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