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Undergraduate Council of Students' program keeps students on leave connected to campus

Wellness Committee program sends care packages to students on personal, medical leave

The inaugural leavetaking peer program is working to help students maintain a connection to campus while on leave this semester.

The Curricular Resource Center is collaborating with the Undergraduate Council of Students Wellness Committee and Student Support Services to support the program, said Peggy Chang, director of the CRC and associate dean of the College. “The idea, that came out of the UCS Wellness Committee was to contact students while they are on leave — personal leave or medical leave — and ask them if they wanted to receive a care package or news updates,” Chang said, adding that it is an “opt-in program” that ensures the privacy of students on leave.

Shivani Nishar ’20, chair of the UCS Wellness Committee, said that the committee is working on collecting names of students who opted-in to the program. They plan to send care packages toward the end of March and early April.

The initial implementation of the leavetaking peer program is funded by the UCS Raised Funds Accounts — “the product of past budgets that we hadn’t spent, which we’ve designated towards sponsoring pilot projects,” Nishar said. She added that the committee has developed a feedback mechanism to continually improve the program over the coming years. “Once students receive the packages, they have the option to share their feedback with us and indicate if there are other things they would like to be getting or seeing from the program or the office as a whole,” she said.

The idea for the program originated with Vanessa Garcia ’20.5, a member of the UCS Wellness Committee who has taken a medical leave. “I decided to try a pilot program with the Filipino Alliance where we would send care packages and handwritten letters to our members who were on personal or medical leave,” Garcia said. The care packages for students in the Filipino Alliance included personalized letters and “self-care” items like bath bombs and socks, she added. They also ensured that the packages had a creative flair, sometimes adding cereal from the Sharpe Refectory and jars with grass from the Main Green.“The program was really successful … So I thought why not do that for everyone who is on leave and wants to receive this sort of connection and support,” Garcia added.

Soyoon Kim ’19, leavetaking co-coordinator of the CRC  reflected on the challenges of her experience on leave. “I knew at once what an isolating process it can be,” she said, adding that she wants to do her best to help facilitate connections for students like her.

Julian Jacobs ’19 stressed the importance of maintaining a relationship to campus while taking time off from school. “I was pretty engaged in what was happening at Brown, and that was important for me as it made me feel like I was still very much a student,” he said. “Without this, it could have felt pretty disconnected and like I was wandering a bit,” he added.

Chang said the leavetaking peer program is one of many initiatives that the University has developed to make the leave-taking process easier on students. “It grew out of the feeling that some students away on leave don’t want to feel cut off from the community because they are not here,” Chang said. Other programs include a “welcome back” dinner and the Mid year Graduation Ceremony, she added.

The CRC is also working on a monthly newsletter and a video-series with stories from students reflecting on their leave experience, said Addy Schuetz ’19.5, the CRC leavetaking co-coordinator. “We’ve been trying to work on building connections with student groups and centers such as the Undocumented, First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center to make the information and resources around leave-taking as accessible as possible,” Schuetz said. Schuetz and Kim have also made an effort to waive the $70 re-admission fee that students must pay upon re-enrollment. “We sent an official proposal (over January break) to the Dean of the College who along with a working group on financial need is in the process of reviewing it,” Schuetz added.


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