DCGA considers mental health days

SOPHIE BITTNER, Special to The Denisonian—The mental health of college students across the nation is suffering, and Denison is no exception. There is currently a DCGA resolution that could advance the bettering of students’ mental health.

Sponsored by DCGA Speaker Nathaniel Beach ‘20, the Resolution to Improve Mental Health in Denison Academia proposes the implementation of two mental health days per student into course syllabi. A student may utilize these days when their mental health needs preclude them attending class. Professors may not elicit an explanation for students’ choice of absence, however, they may recommend that a student follow up after the missed class.

Last semester, after observing students’ dissatisfaction with strict attendance policies, Beach introduced the idea of including mental health days into class syllabi. Beach describes the allocated mental health days as a “buffer,” in which students are not penalized for preserving their own wellbeing.

On Tuesday, DCGA debated the resolution for a second time since it was initially proposed last November. Beach began the debate by stating that he brought the resolution up for debate again in order for it to be discussed by DCGA’s student advisory board. After a short discussion, the DCGA senate unanimously voted to send the resolution to the advisory board on a voice vote.

Beach explains that the board would “gather more student input outside of DCGA, and would help get faculty to pay attention.” The board’s members, composed of 12-15 students, will be chosen through a voluntary Denison survey aimed to represent the general demographic makeup of students. The advisory board is tasked with discussing the resolution and offering possible amendments or changes to the resolution. Their revised version will then be debated and voted on by the DCGA senate.

The vote is primarily to express whether or not senators are in favor of the policy, as it is a nonbinding resolution.

Most faculty and student responses have been positive thus far, but concerns have been raised regarding this change.

DCGA President Owen Crum ‘20 argued that students may be in favor of the mental health days simply to skip class, and that professors will be unwilling to give up a calendar day. Beach resolved that no days would be removed from the class’ calendar, as it is the student’s choice.

Other DCGA members remarked how passionately students feel about making strides toward better mental health techniques on campus, especially following the tragedies that the student body endured last year.

Additionally, senators suggested having a Saturday campus-wide mindfulness day. The current resolution has a section that stipulates for one campus-wide mental health day, should the two mental health days proposal fail to pass.

The mental health days policy could be implemented campus-wide as early as next semester. Members of the administration have hesitations regarding the logistics, such as the Office of the Provost not requiring departments to have a unified absence policy. The Faculty Handbook currently states that attendance policies are left to the discretion of the individual instructor. The policy does stipulate however that it is the responsibility of the instructors to include their individual policy on class attendance, criteria for excused absences if any, and a policy of the “make-up of missed work.”

If the measure is passed out of DCGA it will move on to the Academic Affairs Council and the Campus Affairs Council. If it passes out of those councils it will then move to the General Faculty to be debated and voted upon.

Ultimately, however, the final vote lies in the hands of the faculty. Instituting the mental health days policy, Beach says, “will be mostly down to the students or faculty…that’s where the fight will be.”

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