Without the safety-net of having the option to withdraw, students may face additional stress
As a sociology student, I have been trained to identify possible consequences of policy changes. That is exactly what I did when I received an email last summer regarding the course withdrawal dates at Mount Allison University. Prior to these changes, students could drop a course until the last day of classes with the only penalty being a W, meaning “withdrawn,” on their transcript. This W, from what I have been told, is normally regarded as harmless. The new policy, however, only allows a student to drop a class with the penalty of W on their transcript until the eighth week of term, which is Oct. 20 of this year. Following this date a student can not drop a class and will receive a final grade, which in some circumstances could be low or even a fail.
For the most part, faculty and teachers who pushed for this policy change did so due to two worries that academic integrity was being compromised. First, they believed that students were using the previous policy to avoid bad grades by accepting a W instead. Second, there were concerns that some students would drop out while engaged in group projects, which would leave remaining group members with more workload and responsibilities than expected.
This change in policy, however, has the potential to negatively affect all students, and, to a greater extent, students with pre-existing mental illness such as myself and students with other chronic illnesses. In my own experience I cannot always cognitively function at full capacity due to both physical and mental symptoms brought on by mental illness. Some days I cannot function at my full capacity; some days I cannot function at all, and in extreme circumstances this lasts for days at a time. In these situations, the inability to fully participate in academics can greatly affect our coursework, resulting in a reduced GPA or even a failing mark in the course.
The old policy regarding withdrawal acted as a safety net for all students and personally saved me in the fall semester of 2018 when I had to drop a class at the end of October due to unforeseen symptoms. In addition, simply knowing that safety net was there helped reduce worry and anxiety about the possibility of failing a class, resulting in student wellbeing. It also helped prevent stress that would trigger symptoms for students with mental illness, allowing them to put more energy into their studies. Furthermore, students often haven’t received enough grades by Oct. 20 to make an educated decision on whether or not they should drop a class.
Due to these challenges, I see this policy change as an act of ableism against students with mental illness and chronic conditions and it should be corrected. I was happy, however, to learn that the MASU, in a press release sent May 20, agrees that this policy takes away students’ agency and negatively impacts their wellbeing. We may be able to challenge this policy change by sending professional emails to the department deans about how these policy changes have negative consequences regarding our academics and wellbeing. If you feel strongly about this issue, I invite you to also contact the dean of your department.
I wish to remain anonymous for the following reason: I do not want to personally insult the University faculty by calling them ableists. I worry that this may have negative repercussions for myself and I do not want to hurt the positive relationships I have built with many of the professors in this institution. I do believe, however, that the above message needs to be read.