College Fails to Support Neurodiversity

Amber Rush

Picture yourself walking into a stranger’s office. Not a therapist, not a doctor but someone you don’t know. The stranger tells you to explain your mental ill- ness and why you need an accommodation for an emotional support animal. Your worst fears have been realized. No one believes that you need help for your mental illness. It feels like it’s all in your head (which, I guess, it is).
Despite having recommendations from two therapists and being on medication, the stranger dismisses you, apathetic to your calls for help. You begin to tear up. Because who wouldn’t? The stranger is impartial to your pleas for understanding. You tell them the situation is worsening your anxiety. Once again, they are apathetic, treating you as someone asking for an unnecessary accommodation.

Despite the exhausting process of talking to ResLife, seeing a therapist, compiling medical documents and having to repeatedly expose the most vulnerable parts of yourself because of mental illness, you are dismissed. This stranger is supposed to help you, to get you the accommodations you need for your illness. You leave the office with tears in your eyes and feeling more anxiety than when you went in.

I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression at 17 years old after struggling with mental illness for years. Reaching out to my doctors and my parents to tell them how much I had been struggling was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.

Although mental illness is as serious and as difficult as a physical illness, it is not treated as such. This has never been more apparent than when I attempted to get accommodations through The College of Wooster. I have been receiving treatment for my mental illness for years and yet I was told that it wasn’t enough. I suppose my crippling depression and anxiety wasn’t severe enough for their liking. My treatment wasn’t acceptable to someone who was entirely unfamiliar with my situation and asked me if I had tried other avenues to treat my anxiety.

You may be asking yourself: was this stranger a therapist? A psychologist? A doctor? No. This stranger is the person who was supposed to be helping accommodate my disability but instead they exacerbated it. It is not their job to judge me, but to accommodate my needs as determined by a therapist. I have had to expose myself to so many people in order to even begin this process. I feel humiliated, invalidated and anxious.

She told me that her goal was to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She had no interest in helping me and no interest in expressing sympathy. I am being treated unfairly for my disability and I am not the first one.I expect more from a school that prides itself on its diversity. Diversity means more than just cultural or racial differences, but also neurodiversity and true acceptance of mentally ill people.

A couple weeks after this conversation, I received a vague email with the results of the accomodation hearing. I asked if I could be present for the discussion regarding my accommodation request but I was refused this request. It was a brief email. It read “the Housing/Dietary Accommodation Committee feels that an Emotional Support Animal is not an appropriate accommodation at the present time.” It felt that these people who were only distantly familiar with my situation had decided that they were more qualified to determine the treatment plan than my therapist.

The College claims they value their students’ mental health, but it has never been more apparent that their priorities lie elsewhere. I am not alone in experiencing this apathy and humiliation at the hands of ResLife. For so many students, they are living away from home for the first time and this is the first time they have felt they are in an environment where they can seek treatment for their mental health, or they are deal- ing with a variety of other painful issues that require accommodations. What does it say about the College that students are forced to suffer through an even more stressful situation during some of their most vulnerable times?

Call me crazy, but I don’t think human kindness is too much to ask for, especially for a college that claims to be supportive of its students.

 

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