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Yale facing lawsuit over alleged discrimination against students with mental illness

(AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
A woman walks by a Yale sign reflected in the rainwater in the street on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut, on Sunday, August 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Current and former Yale students are suing the university for allegedly pressuring them and others to drop out due to their mental illnesses.

In a Wednesday lawsuit, nonprofit Elis for Rachael, which helps Yale students with mental health struggles, and two other students detailed accounts saying Yale pressured them to leave school after a suicide attempt, or else they would force them to withdraw. 

The suit filed in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut is seeking for Yale to be forced to change its policies around students who have mental illnesses, and for their current actions to be deemed illegal. 

In a statement, Yale said it is confident its policies are legal but has also “been working on policy changes that are responsive to students’ emotional and financial wellbeing.”

Yale’s alleged discrimination came to light earlier this month when The Washington Post detailed experiences of several students who attempted suicide and had Yale officials pressure them to leave school while they were in the hospital.

While one student was in the hospital, she told the Post she was forced to have a Zoom meeting with Paul Hoffman, the psychologist in charge of student mental health at Yale, who said the school would “strongly recommend” a medical withdrawal. 

The lawsuit states Yale has told students they would involuntarily withdraw them if they did not take the recommendation to do it on their own. 

Students who withdraw for medical reasons are barred from Yale’s campus and are not refunded for costs for the semester even if it is an involuntary withdrawal, according to the suit. 

The lawsuit says the process to reenroll is also challenging, as students have to go through a similar process of when they first applied to Yale and tell the school what they did during their medical leave, along with completing some coursework before returning.

“When we make decisions and set policies, our primary focus is on students’ safety and health, especially when they are most vulnerable. We believe in creating and sustaining strong and sensible support structures for our students, and in many cases, the safest plan includes the student’s parents and family. We have taken steps in recent years to simplify the return to Yale for students on medical withdrawals and to provide additional support for students,” Yale’s statement reads. 

The Post report caught the attention of lawmakers, with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) writing a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday expressing concerns about colleges’ involuntary leave of absence policies.

“Involuntary [medical leave of absence] policies can be coercive and exclusionary for some students. Involuntary MLOAs have occurred after students have disclosed mental health disabilities to counselors or fellow students and, in some cases, over the objections of students who wish to remain enrolled and on campus,” Markey wrote. 

Markey, who cited the Washington Post report in the statement, is calling on the officials to issue guidance on involuntary medical leaves for students “that protect students’ access to higher education and strengthen nondiscrimination protections when they need medical leave.”

Tags Ed Markey mental health suicide Yale
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