By, Jackson Hamilton
To my name, I claim 135 college credits at the College of Charleston. To graduate, I would need 122. The reason for the difference is largely owing to a myriad of factors but all summing up to say that the college’s mental health infrastructure is sorely lacking. I am autistic and, additionally, ADHD, PTSD, and have severe depression. Fighting through all of that to earn my 135 credits was difficult enough but I had to do it without much of a peer or institutional support network. I thrice sent documentation to the disability office and was rejected each time and every time I got in trouble, it was for ultimately harmless behaviors borne out of bouts of anxiety or depression.
The relationship of the disciplinary system of any institution and of society, generally, to those suffering from psychological ailments has always been bad. Rather than intervention and providing a safe environment, the response is to react with fear and to be punitive. That would be when another student would fear me having an anxiety attack or in the deep despair when no one was around, my reaching out to former platonic friends who, on one occasion, went so far as to report me to the campus police for platonic harassment. Their report was heeded as a pure allegation and I was issued a cease and desist notice.
One issue where the scope of law enforcement and the discipline system could be reduced is in this area. Replacing threats and punishments with interventions and relief. Even being white, having non-dangerous mental conditions, I walk the streets afraid of the police and of anyone who isn’t an ally and the college only reinforced that which did terrible things to my already frail condition. In all of those instances, mediation between the parties would have reduced harm on all sides and led to a much better outcome. Assuredly, platonic harassment isn’t sexual harassment and should be treated far more gently, especially in the wake of one’s mother and uncle perishing during a global pandemic.
The college has basic therapists but no crisis protocols or diversion programs to ensure the aforementioned episodes don’t repeat themselves. Their late-term withdrawal system is very difficult to successfully use so if a student has a prolonged crisis or period of debility their grades almost inevitably suffer. The disability services themselves are often denied indirectly because the students applying can’t afford new testing and are using their old testing. The result is a large portion of students who don’t graduate and who leave the college with worse mental health than they came with. It becomes a place where the lucky to have had easy lives win and the opposite lose which is not the meritocracy academia is supposed to be.
It is a microcosm of the failing mental health system in the broader society and is also the perfect place to pilot programs and policies for later adoption by other institutions. Where currently the weak are punished for their ailments and barely given some, if any, resources to cope with their anguish and where we can replace punishment with intervention and apathy with altruism.
The bureaucracy of the college mostly has no background in this field and have not taken the steps to recruit those who do to design better programs. Many of the students on the ground are needlessly struggling and suffering and student affairs nor any other department has done much to help them. This is not only bad for the students but bad for the college in its lower graduation rate and bad for the workforce since otherwise qualified people get overlooked due to low GPAs or otherwise lacking credentials. I would go as far to say that reforming how mental health is handled in our colleges is a step in competing with China and Russia. For the causes of empathy and of a strong economy, we need to fix this.