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Purdue adopts rare academic leave policy for grieving students

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University is now one of a handful of universities that has adopted a formal bereavement policy to support students who have a lost a loved one during the school year.

“Thanks to this new policy, a bereaved student can focus on his or her grief rather than contacting multiple instructors to make arrangements for missed classes or coursework,” said Brad Krites, a junior from Fort Wayne, Ind., and president of Purdue Student Government. “Prior to the policy, when students experienced a death in the family, they had to contact each faculty member individually to receive permission to miss class. Whereas before the attendance was at the faculty’s discretion, the new policy mandates the consistent treatment of such students and provides the student a level of protection that was previously unavailable to them.

“Now students will be able to contact the Office of the Dean of Students, so an official notice of that student’s leave will be sent to his or her instructors.”

The Grief Absence Policy for Students excuses students for funeral leave and gives them an opportunity to earn equivalent credit or show evidence they can meet the learning outcomes for missed assignments or assessments. The policy provides consistent guidelines for how much time a student can miss, and that is based on the family member who has died as well as geographic location. Students who lose a non-family member also can petition for a grief absence through the Office of the Dean of Students.

Krites, who is studying management, worked with other students in Purdue Student Government to propose and promote the adoption of this policy. Purdue’s policy was approved by the faculty senate in March, and it will be official starting this fall. Two other universities that have grief policies are Ball State University and the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay.

At any one time, about 40 percent of college students are grieving the death of a loved one who has died within the last two years, said Heather Servaty-Seib, an associate professor of counseling and development who studies grief and college students.

“Bereaved students have significantly lower GPAs during the semester the death took place, and these students are at a higher risk of attrition from college,” she said. “In addition to helping students succeed academically, having a policy communicates that the institution is compassionate and respectful toward its students.”

This university policy also will save instructors time because it creates a universal policy everyone can use, said Lou Ann Hamilton, assistant dean of students.

The student government senators worked with Servaty-Seib and Hamilton to create Purdue’s policy.

“Unfortunately, there are just a few universities that provide a formal student policy,” Hamilton said. “This policy was shaped by theory, research and clinical experience so students’ needs were met.”

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