Student Association’s absence policy, redefining bereavement, passes

Illustration by: Megan Rowe

Illustration by: Megan Rowe

After nearly five years of lobbying by the UMD Student Association (SA), the campus governance system has approved an amended excused absence policy that redefines bereavement.

The new bereavement policy lets the individual student define their period of mourning. The terms of the excused absence, which includes the length of time a student may be excused, and makeup work, both must be negotiated with the UMD faculty member.

Student Association President Mike Kenyanya said that this revision will go a long way in helping students by not forcing them to pick between handling or addressing life’s unfortunate events.

“This policy supports our recent focus and push for mental health resources and awareness,” Kenyanya said. “I'm grateful to past UMDSA Presidents Hannah Mumm, Kimmy Newton, Nathan Ernst, and their teams for all the groundwork they laid for this to become policy.”

According to former Student Association President Hannah Mumm, the bereavement policy conversation started in 2012.

“During my last year as president my brother committed suicide and I personally struggled working within the confines of the policy,” Mumm said.

Mumm said the old policy allowed one week of excused time off for students.

“As you can probably imagine, this wasn’t enough for the type of situation I, and what we assumed, many others, were experiencing,” Mumm said. “I was fortunate to have sympathetic professors, like Beth Bartlett and Jeremy Youde, who allowed me to miss additional class and went so far as to create alternative assignments for me.”

Mumm said other students were not given the same opportunity.  The Student Association recognized the policy as a problem, but stated that the committees did not look into the former policy language until after she graduated.

Mumm was extremely excited to see change like this.

“Grief isn’t limited to a week, and everyone grieves differently,” Mumm said. “Allowing students freedom to define what their healing process looks like is a step in the right direction.”

Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Life Corbin Smyth said what impresses him most about this is the perseverance of Student Association leaders.

“I remember first hearing about this policy change idea in 2013, which means six different SA administrations have worked on making this change a reality,” Smyth said. “That tells me that the bereavement policy was not a pet-policy orchestrated by a few students, but a true need that many students have seen as a necessary change for their lives at UMD.”

Former Student Association President Kimberly Newton said she first discussed the new bereavement policy with the Student Association during the 2014 spring semester.

“During my junior year in SA, I witnessed a colleague and friend of mine go through the loss of a loved one,” Newton said. “She was a talented student, leader and great student, but received some push back on taking time off to properly grieve the loss of her loved one. Thankfully, many of her instructors were supportive even as she transitioned back, but I knew this wasn't the case for all students.”

Newton heard how mourning affects others from a former student who conducted research in a psychology class regarding death in a family.

“I thought this was a very important policy to bring forth to Student Association and began drawing up what this policy would look like,” Newton said. “Our struggle then was defining what family was to students because family means different things to different people.”

Newton felt that it was not the student association’s place to define what the term loved one meant to individual students.

“I am so happy to hear that the current Student Association advocated to leave that choice up to the individual student,” Newton said.

The new absence policy was approved Jan. 24 and is now policy effective.

The policy is viewable for all students.

NewsZack Benz