Students question bereavement policy

Bereavement policy

When everyone was preparing for finals last December, exams and essays were the least of one student’s worries when they received news that a loved one had passed away. Fortunately, the student was able to take a brief grieving period thanks to the school’s bereavement policy.

Two year ago, Puget Sound’s Academic Standards Committee put together a policy that lent clarity to how students and faculty are to handle these situations.

According to the bereavement policy, the student contacts the dean’s office to ask for a bereavement leave. The dean’s office then notifies the student’s professors that the student is eligible for up to three days excused bereavement leave. The university also asks the student to submit documentation as proof of the loss. It is usually in the form of an obituary in the newspaper, program from the funeral service or a death certificate.

The committee kept the staff bereavement policy in mind when creating the student bereavement policy. Since the staff policy allowed three days leave, the committee applied the same guarantee to students. Moreover, Dean of Students Mike Segawa stated that three days was a sufficient amount, as any more would put a strain on the student’s academics.

“If you miss three days of classes it starts to get really hard; if you miss a full week of classes, there’s a lot of grounding to make,” Dean Segawa said.

Some students have expressed concern that three days is possibly too short, often citing travel restrictions as a reason.

“I don’t think it’s enough. Especially if you live in Hawaii or the East Coast, you’re left with an insufficient amount of time to cope,” a student who had experience with the bereavement policy said.

The student may ask an extension in addition to the three excused days. An extension can be approved for reasons such as travel, a student’s emotional state, faith tradition, etc.

“Extensions might be granted, but would have to be worked out with each faculty member,” Assistant Dean of Students Sarah Shives said.

Faculty ultimately use their discretion to determine if an extension would be appropriate for their class. However, Shives can facilitate communication between faculty and the student to help advocate for the student’s needs.

Yet, the student interviewed still had an issue about professors’ understanding of their situation, with some professors being more willing to grant extensions than others. The fact that students must negotiate with each of their professors for an extension becomes a hassle in the midst of an already difficult time.

The student also expressed concern with the documentation process. They stated that the University was lenient about when the student had to submit the documents, but was surprised at how much the policy asked of students during such a tough period.

“For you to have to find proof of the loved one’s death is emotionally tragic. There has to be a better way,” the student said.

The student suggested a less formal option of having a parent send a letter to the school explaining the situation.

On the other hand, Shives believes this is a necessary part of the policy.

“I think that if we’re going to maintain the integrity of bereavement leave and not have it be something that gets abused we have to have some sort of formality,” Shives said.

The Dean of Student’s staff remains confident in their policy.

“There’s flexibility built into it; we’ve got the clarity so the policy itself covers almost all the situation that come up,” Dean Segawa said.

“It’s an effort by the university to be considerate of students’ lives outside of school and, in my experience, it works out really well,” Shives said.

The differences in opinions between student and staff are understandable when examining grief.

“It really depends on the student’s experience with grief, the type of loss and the student’s coping skills at the time. The grief process varies from person to person,” Counseling, Health and Wellness Services Psychologist Charee Boulter said.

The University put much consideration into creating a policy that helps students cope with grief. However, with such strong opinions from students, the university may want to look into further clarifying and amending its policy.