Former Howard student settles for mental health retreat

When Durmerrick Ross left Howard University after a mental health crisis midway through his freshman year, he wasn’t sure at first whether he wanted to continue through his sophomore year or transfer to a public university in his native state of Texas. But when he finally started applying to other colleges as a transfer student, he ran into an unexpected barrier: Even though he thought he had withdrawn midway through the spring semester, his transcript showed F’s for in each class of that quarter.

It was already August 2017, by then Howard officials had held onto his record due to an enrollment processing error on his end, and Ross wasn’t sure any institution would accept him as a transfer student with a grade point average of less than 2.0.

Like a [high school] senior, I got scholarships from places like Tuskegee University and Prairie View [A&M University], remembered. As a transfer, I was denied, even though those requests were not even a year apart.

He did not understand why his withdrawal request had not been approved; he had submitted the necessary documents and even received a call asking him to confirm that he was leaving, he said. Administrators told her the process had started but was never completed and asked her to fill out the same forms she had in April.

He asked for support in re-filling the forms at that time, students could only report withdrawal for the current semester, fall 2017, rather than the semester Ross was trying to retroactively withdraw, but he did not hear back from administrators.

The experience only exacerbated the depression that had forced him to leave in the first place, making him wonder if he’ll ever finish his degree.

By mishandling the situation, they hurt me more, he said. It was a difficult time.

Then one day in October, in the midst of applying to other institutions as a transfer student, Howards online portal changed to say that Ross had indeed successfully withdrawn the previous spring. He received no notice of the change from the university.

Breaking barriers?

Ross ended up transferring to Texas Southern University, where he will graduate with a degree in communication studies in 2022. Now he’s determined to push for changes at Howard in hopes of making it easier for other students to continue their education after suffering a crisis mental health .

His crusade comes at a time when youth mental health issues are at an all-time high; College students present to campus counseling centers with higher rates of trauma and report increased social anxiety, and key stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic, including isolation and ‘increased academic pressure, have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. Colleges are trying to meet the moment with new mental health and wellness initiatives, virtual therapy and beefed-up counseling center staff.

Many have also been forced to contend with insufficient mental health policies; Yale University came under fire last fall for not allowing mental health leaves of absence, a policy officials re-evaluated after a series of student suicides. Stanford University also changed its leave of absence policy to allow students to continue classes after incidents in which they are considered a risk to themselves or others, as well as to facilitate the return of students who leave .

Ross hopes to spur similar changes at Howard, which, like Yale before 2023, currently has no medical leave policy for physical or mental illness. To that end, he filed a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights in 2018 alleging that Howard discriminated against him by failing to accommodate his depression when he prevented him from retiring.

In September 2023, OHR finally found probable cause that Howard had not provided Ross with such accommodations or an acceptable alternative, and the university settled with him for an undisclosed sum. Ross hoped the deal would also force Howard to create a new mental health leave policy, but he only guaranteed a meeting with Howard officials about a potential policy, which he will have to develop and present himself.

Howard University declined to comment on the settlement. Officials also said they could not comment on Ross’ specific situation because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Howard University takes students facing health crises, including mental health issues, very seriously and has numerous procedures in place to support students facing these issues, the Office of University communications. Inside Ed. superior in response to a series of questions.

Ross said he would like to see the university implement four policies: a medical leave policy, a medical leave return policy, a clear process for students who want to withdraw for medical reasons and a review of the involuntary administrative withdrawal.

My proposal will align with what is the standard in most universities and colleges, he said. There are many reasons why you should at least have a leave policy for students, especially students who are dealing with mental health emergencies when, again, we know, our students are dealing with this the most .

Monica Porter Gilbert, an attorney with the Bazelon Center for Health Law, warned of serious consequences for students at institutions without clear mental health policies. Gilbert represented students who sued Yale and Stanford over their mental health infrastructure.

What we’ve heard from students at different schools is that sometimes there’s a reluctance to disclose that there are mental health needs, because in some places students are afraid of how the institution might respond, he said. When students are not clear that they will receive support, it can lead to doubts about accessing resources. And there is broad agreement that colleges and universities should encourage students to seek out and connect with the resources they need and should foster environments where students feel safe to do so.

Institutional Support

Howard University’s Office of Communications said Inside Ed. superior that, since 2017, the university has introduced and strengthened a number of new initiatives aimed at supporting student mental health, including the Student Advocacy and Support Office, which brings together students experiencing mental health issues with case managers who can help them succeed academically. Similarly, the university implemented the Bison Intervention Team, a cross-departmental group that mitigates and addresses student challenges by ensuring they can get the support they need from University staff and resources.

Since Ross publicized her efforts in the student newspaper, she has heard from current Howard students who are also struggling to resume their studies after suffering a mental health crisis. said a graduating senior, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of the university retaliating Inside Ed. superior that after being hospitalized for a suicide attempt, she received notice that she had been immediately withdrawn from Howard and banned from campus. His scholarship was also canceled, he said.

She said she was alarmed by the university’s aggressive response to her mental health crisis, she said, which came while she was still dealing with depression and the trauma of her hospital stay. Although he successfully appealed his campus ban and the loss of his scholarship, the involuntary withdrawal was upheld. He had to reapply to stay at the institution, which he decided to do because of the friends he made on campus.

I do not believe that any student should be automatically involuntarily removed from school because they had a mental health crisis. I don’t think that should be the policy, he said, stressing that universities need to be more flexible in supporting students with mental illness.

Howard said Inside Ed. superior that the university does not take lightly cases where a student is involuntarily withdrawn because their mental, emotional and/or physical well-being is at risk, or when their behavior and conduct pose an imminent danger or threat to the student individual, other members of the University. Community or university community in general.

In cases where that action is taken, students have a hearing where they can make their case to stay, the communications office wrote. The anonymous student said the hearing she attended seemed to leave her no room to advocate for herself.

The whole hearing process was a bit unnecessary, it felt like they had made a decision from the beginning, he said.

The communications office also said so Inside Ed. superior which offers many options for students whose mental illness is affecting their academic work, including allowing them to take incomplete course grades and receive academic accommodations.

Ross noted, however, that the university did not offer to contact the professors on his behalf, something he could not do on his own from Texas, where he was undergoing psychiatric treatment.

Kayla Gibson, a Howard student who was hospitalized earlier this semester, also faced challenges getting her professors to give her incompletes or allow her to finish her work remotely. A third person approached the teachers on her behalf to request the accommodations, but none agreed. Now he has no choice but to withdraw.

It’s very frustrating just knowing that I could have graduated if it wasn’t for this situation being the way it is, she said.

Earlier, in his time at Howard, he had dealt with a situation like Ross’s, where a doctor recommended he take a medical leave. Instead, Howard was told that he doesn’t have a medical withdrawal policy and would have to withdraw completely and reapply when he wanted to come back.

She believes that Howard would greatly benefit from an official withdrawal policy. Ross also hopes that establishing this policy will give students more options and support during a mental health crisis, when they need it most.

I think we just need to do more, and that means real policies, real practices that are efficient and really help students, he said. I hate that the burden of correcting the university’s inefficient policies is placed on me and placed on the students, but this is what it has to be at any point in the last seven years, if I had let it go, I would never be where I am now. .

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