Yale University sued over student mental health policies

HARTFORD, Connecticut — Yale University is accused in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday of discriminating against mentally ill students, including pressuring some to withdraw from the prestigious institution and then imposing ” unreasonable charges” to those seeking reinstatement.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut on behalf of current and former students seeks no monetary damages. Rather, it demands changes to Yale’s withdrawal policies, including required forfeiture of health insurance and tuition, among other rules.

“Yale’s withdrawal policies and practices push students with mental health issues out of Yale, impose punitive consequences on students who withdraw, and impose unreasonable burdens on students who, after withdrawal, seek reinstatement,” according to the lawsuit, which argues that the burden is hardest on students “from less privileged backgrounds.”

The plaintiffs argue that Yale needs to implement a process for dealing with students with mental health needs that is more accommodating to individuals.

“Everyone is different and their mental health disability will affect them differently,” said Deborah Dorfman, attorney and executive director of Disability Rights Connecticut, one of the three groups that filed the lawsuit. “We’re really advocating here for individual assessments of each student’s situation and also full consideration of all possible reasonable accommodations that might work for the student.”

Yale spokeswoman Karen N. Peart said the school’s faculty, staff and leaders care deeply about students.

“We recognize how distressing and challenging it is for the student and their loved ones when a student is dealing with mental health issues. When we make decisions and establish policies, our primary focus is the safety and health of students, especially when they are most vulnerable,” Peart said. She said the school has taken steps in recent years to streamline the process for returning students to school after medical withdrawal and to increase mental health resources.

“The university is confident that our policies comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Nonetheless, we have been working on policy changes that address the emotional and financial well-being of students,” Peart said in a written statement.

In a Nov. 16 letter to alumni in response to a Washington Post article on student mental health and Yale’s withdrawal and readmission policies, President Peter Salovey said colleges and universities over the past years have seen an increase in demand for mental health services which was exacerbated by the pandemic. He said Yale has since dropped the requirement that students who withdraw from Yale must take two courses at another school before they can apply for readmission.

“We’ve also simplified the process for students in other ways, including removing an informational interview with the chair of the reinstatement committee, which students say could be intimidating,” Salvoney wrote, noting other changes, including the addition of more mental health support services for students.

Complainants, however, say more needs to be done.

“The current state of affairs still leaves students with a very stark binary when they struggle. They either have to commit to a full-time schedule or commit to an extended absence during which they lose university health insurance, on-campus housing, institutional support,” said Rishi Mirchandani, graduate from Yale in 2019 and co-founder of Elis for Rachael. , a group founded in 2021 in honor of a Yale student who died by suicide and helps Yale students struggling with mental health issues.

Lawsuit alleges past and present students who sought mental health treatment were told it wouldn’t be ‘right’ if they resisted being voluntarily withdrawn from school, which is different from a furlough. authorized.

One plaintiff, international student Hannah Neves, recalled being visited in the hospital by three Yale officials after her 2020 suicide attempt and being encouraged to withdraw despite her reluctance, the lawsuit said. When she was discharged from the hospital, she saw an email from four or five days earlier stating that she had been involuntarily removed from Yale and had 72 hours to leave campus. She said she couldn’t return to her dorm unless accompanied by a Yale police officer and that she could only say goodbye to off-campus friends.

Another plaintiff, current student Alicia Abramson, told The Associated Press that she did not feel compelled to voluntarily withdraw. However, she said she felt Yale had erected many obstacles that made it difficult for the third-year student to re-enter, including the now abolished requirement to take two courses elsewhere.

“I don’t want other people to have to go through the same process as me, because it certainly doesn’t lead to any sort of healing,” said Abramson, who believes Yale treats student mental health needs like ” something to punish and discipline” rather than offering them care and support.

Yale, she said, “tends to view students with mental health issues as liabilities in a way that I feel they don’t see with people with more physical disabilities. “.

The lawsuit seeks certification as a class action, ultimately representing more than 1,300 current students as well as former students.

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