Brown. Georgetown. Duke. Princeton. There is a definite aura of prestige and respect when names like these are brought into conversation. But these elite universities have recently been reprimanded for a common offense – their unjust and discriminatory treatment towards students with psychiatric disorders.

Recent court cases and public outcries about injustices involving students with conditions such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder have drawn a great deal of attention. Some universities have demanded that students who have suffered from mental breakdowns or suicide attempts take medical leave. Medical leave is supposed to indicate a return to the university once the student completes the required psychiatric evaluations and time away from the school. Not only is this ethical, United States law mandates it. Universities have placed ridiculously strict and corrupt conditions on a student’s return, however. Denying a student their rightful place at a university because of their mental condition is blatant discrimination, and universities have been manipulating the stigmas our society has placed on individuals with mental illnesses to avoid responsibility.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights received a complaint from student who claimed to have been mistreated and victimized by Princeton University. The student attempted suicide and immediately went to a hospital to receive proper medical treatment. As he was leaving the hospital, his mother notified him that Princeton University had left her a voicemail. The voicemail stated that he had been evicted from his dorm, forbidden to go to his classes and banned from Princeton property. If this sounds extreme, that’s because it is. The student’s lawyer also claimed that Princeton threatened the student, saying that if he did not voluntarily withdraw, he would be dropped from his classes the second he missed too many. As if this behavior is not dehumanizing enough, the university also said he would not be refunded for the semester if he did not withdraw voluntarily. This case is horrifying, but it is not unique. Claims of similar discrimination from Brown University, Georgetown University, Duke University, University of California, Santa Barbara and Western Washington University have been officially filed with the Office of Civil Rights or discussed in the media.

As reported by Buzzfeed News, another anonymous student was discriminated against by Brown University. According to an article posted on June 22, this student was forcibly placed on medical leave, but decided to utilize his time off for therapy, exercise and meditation. He reapplied to Brown University five times, each time with detailed psychiatric evaluations by a licensed psychologist, and was rejected every single time. Other students have complained that universities ask for access to sensitive and private medical records. Some universities have changed the deadline for reapplication to six months in advance instead of three months. All of these policies make it nearly impossible for students to continue their academic life at the universities. This is deliberate.

If a student were to have pneumonia, or chlamydia, or malaria, or a broken digit, would the university exhibit the same conduct? The negative connotation that mental illness possesses is borderline – actually, over the line – discrimination, and it would not be tolerated if it pertained to a physical illness. Students who have attempted to commit suicide are absolutely a risk to themselves, and they should be encouraged to receive medical treatment and take time for recovery, but they should also be allowed to continue their lives once they have done so.

This breach of human rights is a consequence of image and perception. Few prospective students want to attend a university with notorious rates of anxiety or suicide. The pride and obsession that universities have with the public opinion is not only selfish, but it promotes the very conditions they are attempting to hide. Students who are depressed, but fear repercussion for pursuing professional help, will probably continue to have thoughts of disinterest and worthlessness. Students who are anxious, but cannot trust administrative figures, will probably continue to have panic attacks and struggle to complete daily functions. The American College Health Association has backed this sentiment with statistical evidence. According to a survey conducted, 30 percent of college students feel depressed and unable to function.

As long as we cast out students with psychiatric disorders, the rates of psychiatric disorders will increase. If individuals are afraid that they will face expulsion for having depression, then absolutely no students will admit their feelings of sadness or worthlessness. How is that productive?

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

 

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