Before transferring to Georgetown, I viewed a withdrawal on a transcript as a poorly disguised bad grade, a symbol of weakness. Yet my time at Georgetown has taught me that a “W” means something quite different. To me, a “W” can represent one’s ability to prioritize mental well-being over academic pursuits. Still, I did not understand the true importance of a withdrawal until I needed one — and was nearly unable to get it.

Two months into my first semester at Georgetown, my mental health reached an all-time low. I didn’t eat. I constantly slept. Functioning properly was completely out of the question. Somehow up to that point, despite my declining mental health, I had been able to stay enrolled in 12 credits and remain on the women’s rowing team. The structure that the team’s practices gave me was instrumental in keeping me somewhat functional.

To this day, I attribute my ability to stay at Georgetown during that semester to my participation on the team. Still, by the end of October, my ability to function had almost completely disappeared. After experiencing delays in treatment for my mental health, I did not have much left to give.

In just the span of those few weeks, my four classes became too much for me. This led to a series of painfully uncomfortable — yet ultimately necessary — conversations with one of my professors. I wanted to withdraw from one of my classes, but because I was enrolled in only 12 credits, the dean’s office had to approve my choice to drop to part-time student status. Ultimately, withdrawing — a choice I felt was best for my mental health — was not up to me.

The ability of the dean’s office to deny my withdrawal request did not change the fact that I was incapable of managing four classes. While my request was pending, I met with my professor to update him on the situation.

“Will you be able to officially withdraw?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I responded. “But even if I can’t, I need to mentally withdraw from your class. I’ll do the best I can, but it’s not going to be much. It’s nothing personal, but if the dean’s office rejects my withdrawal request, I’m going to have to take the bad grade.”

A few days later, the dean’s office notified me that my request had been approved. I was relieved but also afraid. My new status as a part-time student suspended my NCAA eligibility; I was not allowed to attend crew practices or competitions for the rest of the semester. I feared the little functionality I had left would waste away without the support of my teammates or a structured life outside of my classes.

For a while, my fears were coming true. After the NCAA suspended my eligibility, I was the most dysfunctional I had ever been, but eventually, my lightened course load allowed me to make small accomplishments for my three remaining classes. Although I repeatedly considered taking a medical leave of absence that semester, I somehow finished the term with not only passing but good grades. Though my inability to compete with the crew team was difficult, I was still able to make progress — little by little — toward regaining structure.

As a result of this experience, a “W” on a transcript no longer represents weakness for me. My “W” is a visual demonstration of self-care — a recognition that cutting back the course load I had intended to take was the best choice for my health. It is also an acknowledgement that it is okay to do what is best for one’s health, even if the necessary actions are unconventional.

Understanding when I need help and being capable of articulating my needs are two of the most useful skills that I have learned during my time on the Hilltop. I hope that before their time here is up, all Georgetown students can grow to understand that taking a step back for the sake of one’s health — even when it is difficult — is ultimately a valuable choice.

Brittany Rios is a senior in the College. TRANSFERmations appears online every other Monday.

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One Comment

  1. Dear Brittany,

    My name is Kara Stroup, and I’m the Product Director for the company Balance Position. I graduated from Temple University in 16′ and was also on the lacrosse team there. I used my experience as a student athlete to get into the field of mental health advocacy, and the company I work for advocates for student athlete mental health. I stumbled upon your article and had to reach out because it resonates with so many. Our website features stories of student athletes, and I’d love to get yours up on our website! All I would need is the okay to use this article and two pictures of you that are rowing related. You can email me back at karastroup@balanceposition.com! Thanks and great work Brittany. These words you have written are important!

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