Emmons explains existing yet surprising no-note policy

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Senior Director of Student Wellness Services Sara Semal sent an email to the Occidental community Sept. 21 clarifying that the health center does not write notes excusing students from class. She said later via email that the same policy applies when students miss on-campus work.

Semal said this policy is in place to discourage students from making unnecessary, potentially expensive visits to Emmons for sicknesses that would be better treated with liquids and rest, like a cold or flu. She said that the contagious nature of such illnesses makes it risky for students to queue up at Emmons waiting for notes.

According to Semal, the policy might not have been clear enough before she sent the email.

“We have just needed to clarify our policy,” Semal said. “We try to be as transparent as possible about our note policy and also have [it] posted on our website.”

Managers at the Green Bean did not know about Emmon’s note policy before Semal sent this email, according to Huijing Huang (senior), the Green Bean’s health, safety and sustainability manager. The Green Bean managers informed student workers of a change in the coffee shop’s sick day policy Sept. 25. Until this point, the Green Bean had required workers to provide a doctor’s note to miss a shift for illness. According to Huang, the new policy no longer requires sick employees to provide a note.

“We always required some sort of documentation for sickness-related absences in the past,” Huang said via email.

Huang said that under the new Green Bean policy, if an employee misses a shift and does not make a good-faith effort to find cover, they must give her a doctor’s note within a week of the missed shift.

Vuk Muyot (first year) said that he began having cold symptoms three weeks ago and remained sick for two weeks. He said he did not visit Emmons for a diagnosis.

“They sent out an email saying if you have a cold, don’t come,” Muyot said. “I saw the email and it definitely persuaded me to not go, and [to] just sort of stick it out.”

Muyot said he was not aware of the no-note policy before the email, but believed Emmons should write notes.

“If you really need it, the resource should be there,” Muyot said.

Sandy Kupfer (first year) said that he was also unaware of the no-note policy, but had assumed that Emmons gave notes. Kupfer said that he woke up sick Sept. 25. He visited Emmons, where a practitioner diagnosed him with bronchitis. According to Kupfer, he did not attend class that day but returned the next day to avoid falling behind.

“I think a lot of people overexaggerate how they feel when they get sick, so I think Emmons is smart by playing that,” Kupfer said. “We’re 18, people should know how to take care of themselves.”

Although some students may have been unaware of the note policy, Semal said it is not new.

“Emmons has always had a no-note policy,” Semal said. “This is a common practice for wellness centers at colleges and universities. We want students to use their best judgment in deciding to miss class, and we want professors to use their best discretion in accepting students’ need to miss class due to illness.”

According to Ann Martella, the lead medical practitioner at Emmons, it can be difficult for students to decide whether to attend class when they are sick. Martella said that symptoms that would warrant a medical evaluation include high fevers that will not come down with anti-fever medications, sustained vomiting, difficulty breathing and severe sore throats, headaches or coughs.

“If you have cold or illness symptoms that are improving with rest and fluids and resolve well on their own, you are probably fine not being evaluated by a medical provider,” Martella said via email. “If your illness is extending over several days and causing several days of missed class, it is a good idea to seek medical attention.”

Martella said that another resource that can help sick students decide what to do — whether that is going to class, missing class to rest or visiting Emmons — is Occidental’s 24/7 confidential nurse helpline. According to Martella, the helpline now offers both medical and mental health evaluations.

“The nurse will listen to their symptoms and make recommendations based on their answers to questions,” Martella said. “As far as I know, these calls are not shared with professors, so it may not be beneficial to call just to verify that you will not be attending class the next day.”

Vivian Garay Santiago, interim director of student success in the Dean of Students Office, said that her office can communicate with professors for a student in the event of serious injuries or sicknesses that cause extended absences.

“In these more serious situations, assuming a student gives permission to Emmons to share with the Dean of Students Office, we can convey messages to faculty when the student may not be able to do so themselves,” Santiago said. “We can serve to validate to faculty that the illness or issue is more serious and the student may need short-term flexibility.”

Santiago said that the office will not get involved in minor situations concerning colds or cases of flu.

“Oxy faculty are caring people who are sensitive to unexpected and urgent issues that may arise,” Santiago said.