Taking time off from Cornell allowed me to start defining myself as a person, not just as a student. Without the persistent pressure of exams, papers and club obligations, I discovered the space to question who I am when classes end and life begins.
About a quarter of campus is taking classes outside of Ithaca, and about 600 are taking a leave of absence. Those numbers may change come the stpring, as some of those students are making plans to return to campus.
As we continue through the semester, the chorus of reminders that students take care of themselves continues to grow. E-mails from staff, opinion pieces in The Sun and reminders from concerned friends and family encourage us to exercise self-care in addition to managing homework, exams, work and extracurriculars. We, as a community, have begun to talk more openly about burnout, self-care and seeking clinical care in the last few years. While all of these are crucial to helping students in distress, sometimes taking care of oneself is simply not possible while continuing one’s academic work. Sometimes the best choice for a student may be to take a voluntary leave of absence.
This upcoming weekend, Cornell will host the fourth annual Ivy League Mental Health Conference, where delegates from all the Ivy League schools come together to discuss the state of mental health on our campuses. Considering Ivy League schools recently got slapped with a D or worse by the Ruderman Family Foundation for our leave of absence policies, there’s a sense of urgency in rectifying the mistakes we made. If we’re really among the best schools in the nation, it’s time we act like it. Cornell Minds Matter has been the driving force in organizing the conference, brainstorming, making calls, asking for funding. As a small part of the organization, I’ve gotten a first-hand view of the planning for the conference.
“Some people who end up taking a mental health leave don’t come back, because they come from abusive households or they’re not able to get the treatment they need,” said undergraduate student-elected trustee Yamini Bhandari ’17.