Strict attendance policies negatively impact students’ mental health

Cartoon by Gabbie Evans. 


It’s 7:58 a.m. Class starts in two minutes. Your alarm went off almost an hour ago, yet you still haven’t considered leaving the warm confines of your bed.

You know that if you miss class, your grade will plummet, but you can’t bring yourself to care. It’s just not gonna happen today.

This is the reality for many college students who struggle with poor diets, poor sleeping habits and even worse mental health. At many institutions of higher education, Butler being no exception, there are attendance policies that make it difficult to make room for mental health.

At Butler specifically, many professors put a strict attendance policy in place which reserves them the right to lower a student’s grade after missing a set amount of classes. This is meant to be an incentive — or a disciplinary tactic — to improve student attendance.

While attendance policies such as these tend to motivate students to come to class, they fail to allow days for mental unwellness. For example, if a student is unable to attend class for a couple of days due to a physical sickness but fails to get a note from a doctor — either because the doctor did not merit their illness debilitating enough to miss class or the student simply did not deem their health poor enough to go to a clinic — they only have a day or two left to miss class before their grade is impacted.

For students struggling with mental health, the idea that they will have to predict and account for only one or two bad mental health days out of 75 school days in a semester is preposterous.

Lowering a student’s grade for missing class often just pours fuel on the fire, as the lowered grade heightens stress levels, throwing the student even deeper into anxiety and depression.

Luckily for students, there are many understanding and supportive professors who are more than willing to accept mental unwellness as an excuse. Jennifer Berry, a psychology professor, said mental health “is a vital component to any education process.”

Without a healthy mental state, it is next to impossible to fully apply yourself to classwork, let alone fully comprehend the information. Because of this, Berry said she believes that mental health problems are an “absolutely valid” excuse for missing class, as long as it is an honest problem.

“I’d rather someone tell me up front that they were having struggles… than them going through it alone,” Berry said.

First-year marketing major Matthew Holmes said he believes students should do their best to “power through if [they] can” but should “take a day off if you really have to.”

He contests strict attendance policies, bringing to mind the outlook of larger universities, where attendance doesn’t affect your grade “as long as you’re fulfilling the assignments.” This idea allows students to be graded on the quality of their work rather than how many times they fail to attend class.

Some people may say that if a student is so mentally unwell that they cannot attend class, they should be seeing a counselor for help. This is entirely true, but not the reality for many students.

Poor mental health is often seen as “a part of life” when you’re in college. The idea of college being overwhelming and painfully stressful is one that is instilled in students through media surrounding college both in movie portrayals and social media. Often students are being portrayed rushing to finish papers, as in this episode of Grown-ish.

Senior Olivia Kremer, a critical communications and media studies and Spanish major, tries to prioritize her mental health. She said she believes the stress of college is something that has “become routine” for many students.

She claimed that while “we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s normal to be… stressed,” it is not “healthy to be stressed all the time.”

Students often believe that their mental anguish is normal, or they are too embarrassed to ask for help. The sense of failure that can come with admitting that they cannot handle the college experience on their own often deters students.

Admitting that you need help, however, is not failure, it’s a normal part of life. Every single human being has needed help at some point, and to recognize that you need it enough to ask for assistance is powerful.

Between school and homework, though, many students struggle to find time to see a counselor. Abby Levine, sophomore human communication and organizational leadership major, said mental health days “may help [students] find the time to see someone for help” which they may not have had time to do before.

Student mental health days are important for both students and professors. With the acceptance of poor mental health as an excuse, students will come back to class refreshed and better prepared to take in material. If students are able to be more mentally and emotionally present, it would allow professors to better get to know their students individually, creating stronger campus bonds.

Students will struggle less with juggling their class load on top of their own mental needs if we embrace mental health days. There would be less stress surrounding assignments, allowing for better formed ideas and a more enhanced work ethic.

With lower emphasis placed on attending every class, the impact of mental health absences on grades will lessen, lowering stress and the need to beg for extra credit from professors. Overall campus morale would be boosted, and our Community of C.A.R.E at Butler would further live up to its name.


One Comment;

  1. Linda Caldwell said:

    Some students do not have health insurance. And even if they did the Counclers are no help. Many students struggle with health issues. I know for a fact even when they do the best they can, including staying up all night to finish it they are still treated like their best is not good enough. I know my Daughter has struggled to last 2 years.

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