Current students and an advocacy group are suing Yale University and its governing body, alleging “systemic discrimination against students with mental health disabilities,” according to a lawsuit filed in Connecticut federal court Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleges the university discriminated against students with mental health disabilities and forced students to withdraw from the school after showing symptoms of severe mental health disabilities.
“Yale officials forced students to take “voluntary” leaves of at least one or two terms when they experienced significant symptoms of a mental health disorder by advising them they would face ‘involuntary’ withdrawal,” the lawsuit said.
Students who withdraw from the university are prohibited from visiting the campus and all campus activities without prior permission from the school, including private summer classes open to non-students, the lawsuit states.
The policy requires students to withdraw from campus housing within 48 hours.
The lawsuit details instances where students had to be accompanied by police escorts to collect belongings from campus housing after being pulled from the university.
Students who leave for voluntary or involuntary disability-related reasons often lose tuition and dependent room and board deductions when they withdraw, and also lose their student health insurance, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit cited a 2018 report from the Ruderman Foundation that gave Yale an “F” for absenteeism and withdrawal policies, behind six other Ivy League schools. One student named in the lawsuit was called “responsible” by university officials after a mental health episode.
“If something happens [her], [she] it will be the university’s responsibility,” officials told the student, who was treated at a local hospital after reportedly self-harming.
The student eventually withdrew from Yale voluntarily and graduated from another school because he could not afford the class requirements that Yale required him to return.
Named plaintiff Hannah Neves alleges in the suit that Yale officials hospitalized her after she took an aspirin overdose in February of her junior year, forcing her to involuntarily withdraw or be withdrawn by the school against her will.
Despite being hospitalized without access to a cell phone, the university told him via email that he had 72 hours to leave campus, according to the lawsuit. A native of Brazil on a student visa, Neves was forced to return to his country as soon as possible. Neves was eventually allowed to return to the university for the spring semester of 2021 and is on track to compete for the title next year, the lawsuit said.
According to the university’s website, the school has the right to withdraw a student for medical reasons when it determines that “due to a medical condition, the student is a danger to himself or others, the student has disturbed others in the student’s home or academic community, or the student refuses to work.” equal to the efforts deemed necessary by Yale Health and the dean of Yale College to make the determination. Each case is assessed individually based on all relevant factors, including, but not limited to, the level of risk shown and the availability of reasonable modifications.
Yale’s president released a statement earlier this month saying Yale has been reviewing its withdrawal policy since September. The statement followed a Washington Post article detailing similar allegations from students and alumni.
Two Yale officials wrote an op-ed published by The Washington Post in response to the article, saying they were partially “disappointed to read” the article but noted that confidentiality prevents the school from commenting on specific cases. The op-ed states that continued enrollment is not always the best option for people with mental illness, and notes that in recent years, more than 90% of students who apply for rehab are successful on their first attempt.
The lawsuit asks the court to approve class action status, as there are hundreds of current Yale students who could be plaintiffs with mental health disabilities.
The nonprofit group named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, Elis for Rachael, contacted university officials in August in an attempt to resolve the student’s lawsuit without litigation, according to the lawsuit, but the parties have not met or discussed the issues raised in the complaint. , he said. A statement from the university’s president last month noted that “Yale College’s committee of student affairs professionals and mental health experts at Yale have been meeting since September 2022 to continue reviewing the withdrawal and recovery policy. This group is prepared to revise the policy changes in phases that will continue to support students.
The university has been working on policy changes that are responsive to students’ emotional and financial well-being, a Yale University spokesperson told CNN in a statement Wednesday.
“Yale’s faculty, staff, and leadership care deeply about our students. We understand how distressing and difficult it can be for students and their loved ones when students face mental health challenges. When we make decisions and set policies, our primary focus is student safety and health, especially when they are most vulnerable.We believe in creating and maintaining a strong and thoughtful support structure for our students, and in many cases, the safest plan is to include the student’s parents and families.
“We have taken steps in recent years to simplify the return to Yale for students on medical withdrawals and provide additional support for students. We are also working to increase resources to help students. The University believes that our policies comply with all laws and applicable regulations. However, we have been working on policy changes that are responsive to students’ emotional and financial well-being,” Yale University spokeswoman Karen Peart said in a statement.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to enjoin the university, enjoin the discriminatory policies they claim are illegal under federal law, and award them attorney fees and costs.
If you or someone you know needs help, reach out National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. You can also reach a crisis counselor by messaging at Crisis Text Line in 741741.