The years 2018-2019 seemed to be pivotal in Dartmouth's evolution towards a more accessible, disability-friendly campus.
In 2019, Dartmouth settled a lawsuit brought by a disabled student against the university, who claimed that Dartmouth violated her rights under the ADA by failing to provide classroom accommodations and accessible course materials. As part of the settlement, Dartmouth agreed to numerous changes, including streamlining the accommodations process with Student Accessibility Services and professors, while also mandating training for faculty and staff on working with students with accommodations.
That same year, Access Dartmouth was formed by a group of students on campus "to address systematic issues at the College and help Dartmouth move toward a model of universal design."
In 2022, in an effort to reduce wait times and to satisfy students' demands for longer term counseling services, Dartmouth partnered with the third-party teletherapy provider, Uwill, to offer free, unlimited counseling sessions for students. According to The Dartmouth, between November, 2022 and February, 2023, over 800 students at Dartmouth have registered with the service provider. Although teletherapy comes with its own set of problems, it was impressive that students were actively involved in the process of researching and choosing the teletherapy provider that they wanted at Dartmouth.
Despite these positive changes, however, Dartmouth still has a punitive and regressive medical leave policy that lags behind its Ivy League peers, such as Harvard and Yale, which recently reformed some of the worst aspects of their medical leave policies. According to The Dartmouth, when a student takes a medical leave, they "are prohibited from returning to campus or participating in any campus activities, and they are no longer able to access the College’s counseling services." As one student who has navigated Dartmouth's "draconian" system observes, these policies are self-defeating, since "If communicating with a counselor honestly about suicidal ideations or plans results in forcible committal or removal, any student concerned about their education and ability to utilize campus resources will feel pressure to simply lie or avoid counseling in the first place."
Note: Because we did not receive any survey responses from Dartmouth, the information on this page was sourced from The Dartmouth, the student newspaper at Dartmouth.
After multiple visits to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, I met with my professors to explain my prognosis. Not only would I be missing class for surgery, but I would also be taking fentanyl and oxycontin for the pain, along with managing my concussion for the remainder of the term. Despite the physical signs of my injuries and my doctor's notes, one professor found it suspicious that my surgery date lined up with the midterm and suggested that I wasn’t telling the whole truth. Another said that although he empathized with my situation, he still expected me to perform exactly the same as my peers, completing assignments and exams without flexibility.
Furthermore, two professors stated that if I missed class — no matter if it was due to surgery, concussion haziness or pain levels — they would dock my grade for lack of participation. To me, this was the most twisted part of my situation, because these same professors offered virtual participation options anyway for those who had to miss class due to COVID-19. When I was already in harrowing pain, experiencing the mind-altering effects of medication and concussion and struggling to maintain my relationships and daily routine, this harshness felt punitive.
Once Henrich finally secured a therapy appointment, the Dick’s House counselor mainly tried to discourage him from remaining on campus, rather than expressing a willingness to help him address his mental health concerns, he said. This only exacerbated his already overwhelming anxieties.
“When I actually had the therapy appointments ... I was just blatantly encouraged to go home early, and even to change colleges.” said Henrich. “It’s not good to hear another person in a position of authority as a therapist legitimize everything your anxiety and negative experiences say. I did not feel like I was actually seeking medical help, I was just having someone try to have me not have mental illnesses on campus.”
Henrich felt the counselor was trying to convince him that he could not belong at Dartmouth if he was struggling with mental illness.
“My mom was thinking about me switching schools … but the therapist somewhat legitimized that, suggesting ‘You could definitely start looking at other schools, this place is not for you.’ Henrich said.
After agreeing to go to the hospital, Hadfield said he was escorted into a Safety and Security car by two police officers.
“It was weird to be in that very depressed state, and then have police officers come to me and tell me, ‘You need to come with us,” Hadfield said. “It felt very much like a punishment.”
Hadfield described riding in the back of the Safety and Security car alone with dispatch calls coming in via the radio as a “very negative” and “scary” experience.
Upon arrival at the hospital, Hadfield said he was patted down and potentially harmful items were removed from his body, including his phone. He said he was then locked in a room where he sat on his own for several hours before he was formally admitted.
According to Hadfield, two police officers also entered his dorm after his departure and removed any potentially harmful items from his room, as well as his “extremely personal” suicide notes, which were never returned to him. He said this felt like a breach of confidentiality, and was concerned that people in his dorm suspected that the officers were there for criminal reasons.
However, Luo said she did have one particularly negative experience with a professor who objected to the use of the smartpen in class. Luo acknowledged that prior to receiving the pen, she had been told by SAS that not all professors felt comfortable allowing recordings in class — for instance, when the class discussions involved students’ personal beliefs about controversial or sensitive issues. This professor’s objections, however, were for different reasons.
“[The professor’s] concern was that I would spread the audio files around in my class so that people wouldn’t show up to lecture,” Luo said. “[The professor] also gave a lot of pushback when I couldn’t make it to exams or I needed an extension on deadlines.”
After that experience, Luo stopped asking professors for accommodations, and mentioned that this term, she just never picked up her smartpen. Despite her previous positive experiences with other professors, she said that she didn’t want to deal with the potential for that kind of judgment again.
“I think [the professor] was kind of telling me that I wasn’t trying hard enough or I just wasn’t studying effectively enough,” Luo said. “I feel like [the professor] didn’t really understand that I had medical issues that stood in the way of me performing as well as I normally would.”