Yale University has announced policy changes to support student health, including allowing students to take breaks from school.
The Connecticut, Ivy League school said in an email to students on Wednesday that they will now be allowed to take a medical leave of absence instead of simply withdrawing.
In addition, students are now eligible to receive four visits, an increase from two, can switch to health insurance coverage while on vacation and can use school facilities, such as the library, and while on vacation.
“I wish that no student would have to experience things like this, but some of you may,” Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis said in an email, citing situations like family emergencies and illness. “If you do, I hope these updated policies will ease your concerns about your student, and allow you (and the people supporting you) to focus on what’s important.”
Yale has been reviewing its expulsion policy since September, Yale’s president said in a statement last November.
The new change comes less than two months after a lawsuit was filed against Yale, alleging that it singled out students with mental health problems for failing to provide accommodations and forcing them to leave.
The case, which was filed on Nov. 30, features the accounts of two current students, three former students and a non-profit organization, Elis to Rachael, representing a dozen others.
The nonprofit was founded last year after the suicide of freshman Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum, who considered the consequences of leaving Yale in several online posts before her death.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that the university’s expulsion policy encourages punishment rather than a supportive environment for those with mental health issues, preventing many from seeking help. Their stories describe the “pain” that forced them to leave school, and then the struggles they faced to return.
If students disclose that they have a mental health problem while seeking help and show significant symptoms, the university often forces them to voluntarily withdraw until they request reinstatement after one semester. If students refuse, the university’s policy allows for “deliberate withdrawal,” forcing students to leave without “respecting the faculty or considering whether withdrawal would be harmful,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also says some students may not seek help, fearing they could be subject to university dropout policies if they have a mental health problem.
The lawsuit was filed just weeks after a Washington Post story detailed student and alumni protests.
In addition to making it easier to take medical leave, the changes announced by Yale on Thursday, which were first reported by the Washington Post, also help students get back on vacation.
Students no longer need reference letters, and the university has removed the requirement that students be “active” during recess, according to Lewis’ email. Students on personal leave and medical leave also do not need to take any of the courses they took in the first two semesters when they return.
The changes announced at Yale University come amid reports that student mental health needs remain low on college campuses across the country.
According to a national survey, nearly three-quarters of college students reported experiencing severe depression in 2021.
The Healthy Minds Study, which looked at more than 350,000 college students over eight years, found that in the 2020-2021 year, more than 60% of college students met criteria for at least one mental health problem, according to Monitor, the journal of the American Psychological Association.
ABC News’ Amanda Su contributed to this story.