The first month of freshman year is one of the most exciting and scary times most college students can remember. You are thrust into a group of all new people, with few familiar faces, in a place far from home. There is an electric energy in the air as you make your way to your first classes and begin interacting with fellow students who will soon become lifelong friends.

One of the first things you are likely to remember is syllabus week and each instructor outlining their attendance policy. It can be overwhelming as you calculate exactly how many classes you can miss before your grade takes a nosedive. After a late night, it can be easy to sleep through that 8 a.m. you swore to yourself you could take since you were already used to getting up that early in high school.

The reality of the situation is that it is not always practical to make it to every class. In order to keep yourself healthy, both mentally and physically, taking a day off can be beneficial and sometimes even necessary.

Most classes at the university allow up to three absences before a direct impact is taken on your grade. However, many classes allow less and in some cases no absences at all despite medical documentation. According to Hilltopics, “The policy of the Student Health Service is not to provide medical excuses. Explanations of absence and satisfactory arrangements for academic makeup can be accomplished through communication between the student and the professor.”

So what does this mean for students who cannot attend class due to illness? According to the school’s handbook, tough luck. There is no set policy in place to ensure that illness related absences are excused. Ironically, most teachers will tell you that if you are sick not come to class. This, however, does not mean they are willing to excuse you. This merely means they would prefer your grade to take a hit rather than risk infecting other students.

While this is certainly not the case for all instructors, it is a tough reality that many still face on campus. This is especially true for classes with labs that cannot be made up. Because there is no set policy in place to protect students who are unable to attend class on a given day, many students who are in no condition to be in class will risk their own health along with others in fear of how staying in bed may impact their grade.

The university desperately needs to take a look into this policy for the health of their students because it is simply not practical. If a student is still able to get their work done and make adequate grades, then why should they receive an automatic penalty whether they were in class or not?

From my personal experience, I can think of many times in which I fell victim to this policy. In my first month at school, my grandmother fell very ill. Within a matter of weeks she quit chemotherapy, was moved to hospice and passed away. With the stress of school, being far away from home and my grandmother’s passing, I was beyond overwhelmed. I had to take a few emergency trips home to say my goodbyes, and despite the situation I was in, my absences were unexcused.

One instructor told me she did not believe in absences. The first one automatically deducted my grade five points and each additional absence would be five more. Additionally, while I was home for the funeral, I had to miss an exam. I emailed my teacher to explain the situation and instead of sympathy I was asked for an obituary.

What kind of environment does that promote when a student does not feel they can reach out to a teacher when they need help because the attendance policy is somehow more important than their mental and physical health?

I strongly urge UT to re-examine the structure they have in place and the effects it has on its students. Academic success is not just about how many classes you attend. It’s about facilitating an environment where students and instructors can openly communicate with one another and work to find a solution when a student may need a little extra help. With the policy in place now, this is hard to accomplish and will inevitably be more detrimental than beneficial in terms of student success and well-being.

Margaret Bacurin is a sophomore in exploratory studies. She can be reached at mbacurin@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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