We’re human beings, not liabilities
Editorial | Universities more concerned with image than student health issues
Frances Chan, a Plainsboro, N.J., native enrolled in Yale University, was threatened with suspension because the administration would not believe her 5-foot-two, 92-pound frame was healthy. Chan was forced to bring in old medical records to prove her natural body type is petite and needed to eat junk food to bring up her body weight — but nothing she did or said was enough to assuage the Yale officials who were convinced she had an eating disorder.
The problem here is not only that Yale’s apparent concern for a student who wasn’t even sick got to the point that it was extremely intrusive, but also that the way they handled the situation was not helpful in any way. What if she really did have an eating disorder — is this really how the administration handles these issues? The intense scrutiny she has faced over the course of this investigation into her medical history couldn’t have been comfortable. Even if she was healthy before, what kind of impact will this have on her now?
This is more about Yale trying to protect itself from legal liability than any genuine concern for a student’s mental or physical health.
The administration’s handling of this situation reflects a cold lack of empathy for those suffering from mental illness in many other colleges, too. In 2012, a first-year student at Princeton was asked to withdraw for a year after he sought help following a suicide attempt. Instead of working with the student and his family to make accommodations to help him with the recovery and readjustment process, they simply asked him to leave. He was to re-enroll after he could prove six to nine months of stability.
What kind of messages are these universities sending? Instead of helping students with serious medical issues, they are told to leave until they figure out a way to get better on their own. There is already a stigma attached to mental illness, and it’s not hard to see why when this is the kind of reaction students receive when they reach out for treatment.
Regardless of the legal implications of enrolling a student suffering from anxiety, depression or any mental illness, how ethical is it for a university to simply distance itself from that student instead of actually addressing the issue? To put it bluntly, it’s not. Every university has an obligation to all its students, and this kind of discrimination against students with mental illnesses is not acceptable.
At Rutgers, we’ve noticed there seems to be a more supportive environment for students with mental illnesses and a lot more outreach from the University through its CAPS program and health services. Many of us have had experiences with professors who go out of their way to make themselves approachable to students who might be struggling with any health problems, and we have all been made aware of the health services offered by the University should we ever need them.
People do not choose to be depressed. Mental illness has a neurological basis, and it’s also a product of our environment. But it’s almost as if these schools are trying to deny that the pressure they place on their students plays a huge role in creating these problems. This year, Stanford University accepted an all-time low of only 5 percent of its applicants — in an increasingly competitive world, mental illness is only going to become more prevalent, and it can’t keep getting swept under the rug.