HomeScienceAt Yale, a Surge of Activism Forced Changes in Mental Health Policies

At Yale, a Surge of Activism Forced Changes in Mental Health Policies

In the weeks following the tragic suicide of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum, a first-year student at Yale, a group of individuals began meeting on Zoom. While some were personally acquainted with Ms. Shaw-Rosenbaum, many only knew her struggles with suicidal thoughts and the difficult decision of hospitalization. Among the group were a physician and a classical pianist, both of whom had personal experiences with mental health challenges and felt excluded by the university’s policies.

The group, named Elis for Rachael, voiced their concerns about Yale’s strict mental health leave policies, which often resulted in students withdrawing without a guarantee of readmission, losing health insurance, and being excluded from campus. They discovered that these issues had been a problem for generations of Yale students who had remained silent about their experiences.

The organizing efforts of the group led to a recent legal settlement that significantly improves the process of taking a medical leave of absence at Yale. The new policy allows students to extend their insurance coverage for a year, retains their access to campus spaces and jobs, and simplifies the process of returning from leave with input from a student’s healthcare provider. Additionally, Yale has agreed to offer part-time study as an accommodation for students facing medical emergencies, a change they had previously resisted.

The dean of Yale College, Pericles Lewis, expressed his hope that these changes would make it easier for students to seek support, focus on their health, and take time off as needed, knowing they can resume their studies when ready.

Yale’s withdrawal policies were the subject of an investigation by The Washington Post in 2022, and a class-action lawsuit filed by Elis for Rachael alleged discrimination against students with disabilities. Other elite universities, including Brown, Princeton, and Stanford, have faced similar legal challenges in the past.

The inclusion of part-time study as an accommodation sets Yale apart from Stanford, reflecting the progress made by student plaintiffs and their advocacy for change. The urgency of these arguments has been heightened by the mental health challenges faced during the pandemic.

While Yale’s response to the lawsuit was swifter and more comprehensive than expected, some student plaintiffs, such as Alicia Abramson, remain cautious in their praise. They recognize that legal action was necessary to bring about these changes.

The tragic suicide of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum exposed the flaws in Yale’s withdrawal policies. She feared that seeking treatment and taking time off would jeopardize her scholarships and access to healthcare. Previous incidents of student suicides and activism had criticized Yale’s policies, but the involvement of alumni and their understanding of legal rights brought about significant change.

The recent settlement expands the protections introduced earlier, offering part-time study and a “Time Away Resource” for undergraduates. Yale’s compliance with the agreement will be overseen by the court for the next three years.

The implementation of these changes has brought relief to students like Lucy Kim, who had experienced the previous system’s shortcomings. The news of the accommodations provided under the settlement elicited tears of gratitude.

It is clear that advocacy efforts and legal action have played a vital role in bringing about positive change at Yale. Though progress has been made, there is still work to be done, and student activists like Alicia Abramson remain committed to continuing their advocacy for improved mental health policies at the university.