Student Minds Cambridge calls for ‘university-wide’ return policy for students with mental health concerns

Their open letter lists examples of students whose requests to return to Cambridge for mental health reasons were denied

Content Note: Discussion of mental health concerns.


Student Minds Cambridge has drafted an open letter addressed to the university following on from the publication of the university’s potentially harmful policies regarding the return of students for Lent Term.

The open letter is calling for a “standard, university-wide approach” to be established “as swiftly as possible” in order to allow “students with mental health concerns back to Cambridge.”

The letter has currently been signed by over 150 students and three student organisations, and support continues to grow.

The letter raises concerns over the disparity between how colleges are responding to government guidelines: “We are worried that colleges’ policies seem to vary widely, particularly in relation to the exception accommodating for students with mental health concerns.”

The letter goes on to highlight even greater disparities regarding the treatment of students: “Even within some colleges, students’ treatment has depended on who their tutor happens to be, also leading to inequity at this level.”

Student Minds Cambridge believes “This has led to some students being forced into circumstances actively detrimental to their health.”

The letter continues, saying: “We can see from anecdotal accounts that many students with mental health concerns have had their requests to return to Cambridge denied and, worse, have been treated with contempt when they were rightly attempting to safeguard their own wellbeing.” 

President of Student Minds Cambridge, Anna McKeon, spoke further about the open letter: “We drew up the open letter after hearing of numerous students with mental health issues whose requests to return to Cambridge for the sake of their wellbeing were denied, often very dismissively.”

Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot

The letter provides anecdotes of students whose requests to return to Cambridge due to mental health concerns have been denied. 

The letter gives several  “anecdotal accounts” from colleges who have “denied” students returning for mental-health reasons, or “treated [students] with contempt.”

One example given is “a student at Selwyn College with mental health concerns who had their application to return denied and received a dismissive and uncaring email from their tutor.” The tutor dismissed the student’s reasons for returning, saying “I wonder if there is a mega group chat where you’re winding each other up.”

Sidney Sussex College: “Sidney Sussex College has effectively been penalising students who do remain in or return to college for a very short time for mental health reasons by requiring them to pay for an entire term’s rent.” 

Another college singled out for their return policy was  Trinity College who  “has set out more extreme requirements than the government, requiring students to provide a recommendation that they should not be at home, preventing them from assessing their own situation and mental health needs.” 

Other colleges still haven’t confirmed to students if they will be able to return to Cambridge (10/01), seven days after the government’s announcement regarding university students.

Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot

However, they also point out “we are aware of colleges which have instituted alternative policies which prioritise students’ mental welfare.” The approaches of Girton College and Lucy Cavendish College are praised, with Student Minds Cambridge commenting on Girton College: “Students were sent a form to find out their plans for Lent term and, if they were returning, to briefly give a reason. 

“Forms were sent straight to accommodation and, although tutors had to be made aware of any decision when checking in at the start of term, students were not harshly interrogated about their decision or justification.”

Student Minds Cambridge asks that in future, the approach adopted by the university “prioritise[s] compassion and students’ welfare, in the ways demonstrated by Girton and Lucy Cavendish Colleges.” 

President of Student Minds Cambridge Anna McKeon told the Tab Cambridge: “We hope that our letter will help to persuade the university and its colleges to take action to ensure that a more compassionate approach that prioritises students’ welfare is taken and that the inequities that exist across and even within colleges can be corrected.”

The open letter can be found, here.

Regarding the Selwyn College case, a collegiate cambridge spokesperson said: “The College never comments on individual cases.”

The University of Cambridge, Student Minds Cambridge, Sidney Sussex College, Trinity College, Girton College and Lucy Cavendish College have been contacted for comment. 


Feature Image credits: Sophie Carlin, Student Minds Cambridge Facebook page, Camfess Facebook page 


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