Hours before Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway informed the campus community of the death of Luchang Wang ’17, the student herself had posted a suicide note on Facebook. In her message, she bid goodbye to her loved ones and to Yale.

The end of Wang’s note — in which she discussed her fears about taking time off from Yale and not being allowed to return — casts new light on a campus debate about how the University handles cases of mental illness, withdrawal and readmission. While some students have criticized the University’s policies as cold and demanding, others have emphasized the complex confluence of factors that led to Tuesday’s tragedy.

In a Wednesday phone interview, Officer Daniel Hill of the California Highway Patrol confirmed that at approximately 10:29 a.m. on Tuesday, the CHP received calls regarding a “despondent female” who had crossed over the rail of the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped into the bay below. Hill said the California Coast Guard was called in to check the area but that a body has not been recovered.

“Our officers were able to locate a piece of property — a backpack — which contained identification that was matching [Wang], but we cannot confirm that the person that jumped was the same person because we don’t have the body,” Hill said.

WITHDRAWAL, THEN UNCERTAINTY

Students interviewed who had been close to Wang said she had mentioned suicide before. One of her friends, who asked to remain anonymous, said Wang was severely mentally ill and had struggled with issues of mental illness her whole life.

Caroline Posner ’17 said Wang had openly addressed mental health before, including in their first conversation with one another.

According to Posner, Wang initially started at Yale in the fall of 2012, but then withdrew, re-enrolling in spring 2014 to finish her freshman year. In the fall of 2013, Wang lived and worked in New Haven, Posner said.

Wang’s friend added that Yale’s policies regarding withdrawal and readmission prevented Wang from seeking appropriate and necessary treatment.

“She was routinely lying to her therapist,” the friend said. “It was very common for her to express suicidal ideations and then she immediately followed that up, explaining that if we reported her she would be kicked out of Yale and have no reason left not to kill herself.”

Under Yale’s current leave of absence and withdrawal policies, students may elect to take a leave of absence until the 10th day of a new semester. Students who take leaves of absence may return to campus easily, often simply by emailing their residential college dean.

But after 10 days, the process of leaving Yale becomes far more complicated. Students who wish to take time off must withdraw from the University, and they must apply for readmission before they are allowed to return. Although most students who apply for readmission are accepted, according to the University’s policies, readmission is not guaranteed.

Applicants must fulfill certain requirements before applying for readmission; according to the requirements listed online, the readmissions committee expects them to have been “constructively occupied” during their time away from campus. Students who withdrew for medical reasons are often mandated to complete the equivalent of two term courses. In addition, students must demonstrate “the ability henceforth to remain in academic good standing.”

Readmission is considerably more difficult for students who withdraw for a second time. Yale’s readmission policies, as specified in the Yale College Programs of Study handbook, state that it will only be allowed under “unusual circumstances, ordinarily of a medical nature.”

Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs for Yale College Pamela George, who chairs the Committee on Readmission, said it is vital that Yale’s guidelines concerning withdrawal and readmission be clear and accessible. But she also said that the readmission policies have been in place for decades and are ready for reevaluation.

“There is definitely room for immediate improvement,” she said in an email.

For Wang — who had already withdrawn from the University once during her freshman year — the uncertainty of being readmitted again appeared to play a role in her decision not to withdraw a second time, according to her Facebook note.

“Dear Yale: I loved being here,” she wrote. “I only wish I could’ve had some time. I needed time to work things out and to wait for new medication to kick in, but I couldn’t do it in school, and I couldn’t bear the thought of having to leave for a full year, or of leaving and never being readmitted.”

Chief of Yale Mental Health and Counseling Lorraine Siggins could not be reached for comment, nor could Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin.

Students interviewed who have gone through the withdrawal process, but are not familiar with Wang’s situation, said Wang was not alone in having fears of being denied readmission.

Rachel Williams ’17 said that while she did not personally know Wang, she could relate to the fear of not being readmitted following her own withdrawal in February of 2013. Williams said that while those who knew her and were familiar with her treatment, such as psychiatrists and professors during her time off, sent letters of recommendation during the readmission process, the final decision was left almost entirely to George and Siggins, with whom Williams had only one 20-minute meeting before her return in the spring of 2014. 

Williams said that while she could not speak with absolute authority, she got the sense from speaking with others that students who withdraw from the University are not given very many more chances before they are permanently dismissed as students. A large part of this, Williams said, is due to a lack of transparency throughout the process.

“I have gotten the feeling, ‘I better not [mess] up again,’ so I can see why [Wang] would have been afraid,” Williams said. “I would be terrified.” 

Wang’s concern that she would not have had enough time for new medications to take effect is also indicative of the unsympathetic nature of Yale’s policies, Posner said.

“What Yale did was force her to choose between trying to juggle that huge burden while surviving at school with her symptoms not fully managed — a cruel, impossible demand — or leaving without certainty of ever being allowed back,” she said. “Yale, like our society, which is still grossly under-equipped for treating mental illness, shares culpability for her death.”

Another student who withdrew for medical reasons and was then readmitted said they had nearly been driven to suicide two years ago by the financial burden and anxiety imposed by Yale’s withdrawal policies.

The student, who asked to remain anonymous, said that while they were not familiar with Wang’s story, the thought that Yale’s policies might have played a role was devastating.

“Make no mistake — the withdrawal and readmission policies are hostile to students with mental illness,” the student said.

CONSIDERING CONTEXT

However, other students who were close to Wang said that attributing her death to Yale’s mental health policies alone is a gross oversimplification.

Tammy Pham ’15, a close friend of Wang’s who was among the first to respond to her Facebook post, said that while much attention has centered on the difficulties of readmission and Wang’s mention of withdrawal in her suicide note, she does not want people to ignore other factors that may have led to the tragedy.

“I can’t speak for [Wang], but from our conversations, [difficulty with withdrawal] wasn’t the only reason,” Pham said. “I don’t want her story to become, ‘She died because Yale failed her, and if Yale had had a better policy she wouldn’t have died. That’s the vibe I’ve been getting recently, which is very upsetting, because it shows a deep misunderstanding of depression.”

Another friend of Wang’s, who wished to remain anonymous, said that those close to her felt she seemed fixated on the idea of suicide, despite having received medical treatment in the past, and that Wang “was very careful not to preclude [suicide] as a possibility for herself.”

In evaluating the factors that led to Wang’s death, cultural perceptions of mental illness are just as important as Yale’s individual policies, Pham said. She added that while Yale’s policies certainly merit reform, stigmas around taking time off from Yale can be just as off-putting as fear of being denied readmission.

“[Fear of being denied readmission] played a big role in how she felt about taking time off,” Pham said. “But to take that a step further and imply that Yale singlehandedly caused this or could have prevented it is just untrue. There are so many deeper problems at play here, and it’s unfair to blame any one institution or person for this.”

Concerns about campus stigmas surrounding withdrawal were also raised by other students. Williams said she could relate to Wang’s apparent thoughts that leaving Yale was too terrible of an option to consider.

“Yale is a part of our lives — why do we get deluded into thinking that Yale is our whole life and that we can’t tolerate existing outside of it?” Williams said. “[Wang’s suicide] was a source of feeling like you don’t have choices and that she couldn’t pick the choice not to be here.”

Holloway said that during his time as master of Calhoun College, students often fought hard against the idea of leaving Yale.

Holloway said that while the residential college dean and master should always try to reassure students that taking time off is an acceptable option, they often meet the most resistance from students themselves.

“That was always my experience in Calhoun, that usually it’s the students who are desperate not to leave, for a whole range of reasons,” he said.

Asian American Cultural Center Head Coordinators Hiral Doshi ’17 and Jessica Liang ’17 said the cultural house has pushed for more awareness surrounding the stigmatization of mental illness within the Asian-American community. Doshi said that sometimes members of the community are discouraged from opening up to their own families or voicing personal issues to others, which makes a safe environment at Yale that much more important.

“We understand what our community is going through and we don’t have the resources to be able to address this issue properly,” Doshi said. “We don’t want to see anything happen like this ever again.”

A memorial service for Wang will be held on Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. in Battell Chapel.

  • theantiyale

    It is disingenuous to suggest that bureaucratic quicksand wouldn’t further depress someone who was struggling with mental illness, especially if the result of struggling in that quicksand was permanent separation from Yale.
    PK
    M. Div. ’80

    • y2009

      A hyper-aggressive campus 3,000 miles from home isn’t the place for a mentally unfit student. For numerous reasons – and I’m not being facetious when I say this – Berkeley was probably a prime ethos for her. e.g. Close to home, chill vibe, flexible scheduling, etc.

      • Tammy Pham

        Just a note: she wasn’t from California. She’s from Iowa.

      • yale12

        Again, she was from Iowa.

      • anubis

        Speak to what you know, and don’t infer what you don’t understand.

      • confoundedexperiments

        Not everyone wants to be close to home.

        Luchang was brilliant, inquisitive, social. She loved rigorous academics, her friends, and Yale. Not everyone with anxiety or depression or any other illness will be helped by a “chill” environment.

        How could you or anyone possibly know whether she would have been happier or healthier somewhere else? I appreciate that you think you’re being helpful, but your advice is probably best served in the context of people you personally know.

    • Guest

      Let me make one point clear: No one is suggesting that. I and others are 100% on board with serious reformation of Yale readmissions policies.

      But these reforms alone will NOT solve our problem, and I think that focusing too much on the bureaucratic issues is a way to push blame to a faceless institution and shed ourselves of accountability. Instead, we should also turn towards ourselves and reevaluate how we as individuals treat those with mental illness.

      The bureaucratic problems are just symptoms of the fact that we as a society still don’t know how to talk about depression and suicide. If someone says that they are 24 years old and a junior in college, after taking a few years off, they are met with uncomfortable looks, not extensions of friendship. Even those who have gone through depression or have close friends with depression tend to assume that the same symptoms manifest for all those inflicted. No two people are alike and what leads someone to become depressed may make another person more resilient.

      Bureaucratic quicksand has, time after time, made a lot of problems worse. But let’s not pretend that institutional reform will even come close to solving this problem. It’s our obligation to create a safer environment for those with mental illness, and institutional reform is just one small way in which we can work towards that.

      • Tammy Pham

        Sorry for the double post! Tried to delete.

    • Tammy Pham

      Let me make one point clear: No one is suggesting that. I and others are 100% on board with serious reformation of Yale readmissions policies.

      But these reforms alone will NOT solve our problem, and I think that focusing too much on the bureaucratic issues is a way to push blame to a faceless institution and shed ourselves of accountability. Instead, we should also turn towards ourselves and reevaluate how we as individuals treat those with mental illness.

      The bureaucratic problems are symptoms of the fact that we as a society still don’t know how to talk about depression and suicide. If someone says that they are 24 years old and a senior, after taking years off from college, they are met with uncomfortable looks, not extensions of friendship. Even those who have gone through depression or have close friends with depression tend to assume that the same symptoms manifest for all those inflicted. No two people are alike and what leads someone to become depressed may make another person more resilient.

      Bureaucratic quicksand has, time after time, made a lot of problems worse. But let’s not pretend that institutional reform will even come close to solving this problem. It’s our obligation to create a safer environment for those with mental illness, and institutional reform is just one small way in which we can work towards that.

      • theantiyale

        As I said elsewhere:
        Depression is an illness, not a character defect, not a lack of strength, not a weakness.
        It is the illness that scares the hell out of you because you think you really will kill yourself.
        We need to talk about this illness more in public and thereby dilute its stigma.
        My sincere sympathy to Ms. Wang’s loved ones.
        Paul Keane
        M. Div. ’80

        • Tammy Pham

          Yes, I agree with all of these things and think that diluting the stigma of illness is another thing which should be seriously tackled in addition to institutional policy reform.

  • Anonymous710

    To uphold media professionalism and ethical standards, please be more thoughtful in the future when publishing articles such as this one, which could prove damaging not only to your peers but also to people across the globe. Suicide should never be portrayed in such simple terms. Most people commit suicide in the context of mental illness (be it depression, bipolar disorder, or other), which leads them to think about their circumstances in distorted fashion, cease searching for alternative ways out of feeling trapped, and not taking hold of life lines that are extended. Please encourage people to look at mental illness with more complex thinking and seek professional help.

  • Anonymous710
  • aaleli

    There are a lot of very complicated issues at play, obviously; but this bears repeating: Top Tier schools are NO place for anyone struggling with mental issues. It’s a recipe for disaster. The families of these loved ones need to understand this and protect them from themselves and undue stress. It isn’t worth losing a life.

    • Marcella Wigg

      How are you defining “mental issues”? According to this: http://www.giftguide.yale.edu/opportunity/show/1373, 15-18% of students seek the help from Mental Health & Counseling every year, and presumably there are a number of people not being treated for their issues or using outside treatment options. That is a major portion of the student body that should, by this definition, be discouraged from attending.

      Also, 18 is an age at which many mental illnesses have not manifested themselves. Many people arrive at Yale having thrived in high-pressure environments in high school only to fall into depression/other mental illness and struggle. Should everyone who wrestles with mental illness in their time at Yale withdraw or transfer to a less Type A university? What about the people whose lives outside of school are greater stressors than their academic lives at Yale, like this Harvard student? http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/2/21/anonymous-schizophrenia-help/

      As Tammy said above, institutional reform, changes to withdrawal policies and treatment wait times, are important, but we also need to change the way we approach mental illness as a community. We need to stop perceiving the mentally ill as not capable of handling the environment or a potential liability, and think about how to make the environment more conducive to recovery, because in a country where 18.6% of adults suffer from mental illness annually (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-adults.shtml), people struggling with mental illness will inevitably be present in the student body.

      • aaleli

        People with compromised immune systems would be foolish to expose themselves, unnecessarily, to contagious disease. The same logic can be applied to mental illness in a stressful environment. So spit out all the statistics you want. It’s a simple statement, applying common sense and logic and I stand by it.

        • Marcella Wigg

          It’s a simple statement, but it doesn’t address the fact that 1. many who struggle with mental illness arrive on campus without symptoms yet, and so are already students (and attached to Yale) at the onset of illness 2. Yale stresses are not necessarily an exacerbating factor for everyone (though they certainly are for many).

          Top schools can be places for people with mental issues. They already ARE places for people with mental issues. It would be impossible for the Yale Admissions committee to assemble a student body in which every student experiences perfect mental health throughout college, and Yale would lose out on many brilliant, wonderful people in its student body if it required perfect bills of mental health as an application supplement. And so, from a practical standpoint, we should be focusing on ways to make our campus culture not a pressure cooker for those struggling. Maybe with enough effort we can make Yale more like the image presented on the admissions brochure: a place where people feel supported, not stigmatized and isolated, for their illnesses.

        • Guest18

          I am a Yalie with a compromised immune system, and when the severity of my health issues became apparent in high school, I had a choice to make: stay close to home and be sick anyway, or move to Yale to find fulfillment and manage my symptoms as best I could. When you’re chronically ill, physically or mentally, a lot of your life is about taking calculated risks. I’m going to be sick no matter where I am. I’m going to be sick for the rest of my life. But I chose to put myself in, yes, a stressful environment that, also yes, exposed me to many contagions because there is more to me than my illness. I care deeply about my health–mental, physical, spiritual, intellectual–that’s why I came to Yale in the first place, why I took leave, AND why I’m planning to come back.

          We can’t live our lives in constant fear that the world is going to make us sicker. Accommodations exist for a reason–you’ll find very few Yalies who fit your bill of “perfect mental and physical health”, and most of us who don’t are well aware of our limitations. Learning to manage those limitations is a part of growing and maturing, which is exactly what we should be doing in college. We take precautions, we find our limits, we overstress, we make mistakes, and we care for ourselves as best we can–and all of that’s okay, as long as there’s a system and a community supporting us. I’m lucky that medical withdrawal felt like a reasonable possibility when my health issues became too serious for me to remain at Yale, even if the readmission process is frightening and I’m running into institutional problems. But when those options stop seeming like options–when the school and its culture fail to support the people who need it most–then you have students who feel like they have no way out.

          All this to say–we’re not going anywhere. Yale is as much a place for us as it is a place for you, and we should focus our energy on making it a healthy environment for ALL of us.

    • Nikkina

      You can’t predict when you’re going to struggle with mental illness. And people with mental illness can lead healthy, productive lives.

      If Yale really wanted to protect its students from “undue stress” it would revise its policies on medical leave. It isn’t right to punish people for getting sick.

  • anon

    From the Dart Center at Columbia Journalism School: “More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage. Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.” (See more at: http://dartcenter.org/content/recommendations-for-reporting-on-suicide#.VMpQi4rF_dc.)

    They have a list of best practices on the site for reporting a suicide, some of which include not quoting suicide note, not describing the method of death, and not quoting/interviewing responders to the scene. This article violates all three.

    I hope the YDN will re-evaluate its reckless and irresponsible coverage of this tragedy.

  • GBC

    “Although most students who apply for readmission are accepted, according to the University’s policies, readmission is not guaranteed.”

    There have been two articles this week suggesting that the existing withdrawal policies make returning to Yale difficult, but neither addresses the obvious question: do they? What is Yale’s track record? How many students have withdrawn, how many have been readmitted, how many have sought readmission and been denied?

    Yale’s policies shouldn’t be written to “terrify” students or discourage them from pursuing treatment. But maybe existing rules shouldn’t have that effect – if only we had actual information!

    • Nikkina

      The reasons why readmission is difficult are a matter of public record.

      Yale’s leave of absence, withdrawal, and readmissions policies:
      http://catalog.yale.edu/ycps/academic-regulations/leave-of-absence-withdrawal-readmission/

      The 2014 YCC Report on readmission, recommending reforms:
      http://ycc.yale.edu/files/2014/03/YCC-Withdrawal-Policies.pdf

      Search the YDN for “readmission” or “withdrawal” if you want to hear personal accounts. There are essays dating back to 2003 criticizing the system, which remains largely unchanged.

      A lot of people would like to know the stats on how many students withdraw and are readmitted per term, etc. Yale withholds that data.

      • yalie2

        I’m sure that data would be misleading because it would depend so much on the specifics of each situation. There would be one rate for students who withdrew for depression without suicidal thoughts, one for students with more severe or dangerous depression, one for students with bipolar disorder, etc. And even then, it would be very difficult to compare within categories. And when you get too specific you run the risk of revealing identifying information (example: Student A was not readmitted, there was one student not admitted this year, the admit rate for students with schizophrenia was 0/1. Student A is obviously the one with schizophrenia.)

        It certainly seems to me, having been through readmission from mental health withdrawals twice, that the rules are written the way they are in order to give them maximum flexibility in choosing what’s best for the student. It’s my impression that the vagueness of the rules works in the students’ favor.

        There have been complaints, but that doesn’t mean that the process is difficult. It means that some people have had problems with it which may or may not be an indication that being readmitted to Yale is difficult.

        • Nikkina

          I should have clarified: I have been through the process, and my experience was hellish.

          I’m glad that your experience was different, but unfortunately in my case the system wasn’t flexible and really didn’t work in my favor.

  • yale12

    Having had the misfortune of needing to interact with Dean George as an undergraduate, I would be surprised if the readmission process is implemented in any but the most draconian manner. And I would be similarly astonished if any change is effected from within her office. That said, I tend to agree that meaningful reform would need to reach far beyond Yale’s readmission procedures.

    • anubis

      Let’s fire her.

  • tutturu4life

    “I couldn’t bear the thought of having to leave for a full year, or of leaving and never being readmitted.”

    Yale should definitely loosen its withdrawal policies, so that mentally ill students don’t have to fight the extra anxiety of being refused readmission. Had Yale’s policy been different (for example, by guaranteeing readmission to all students who withdraw), Luchang could have taken some time off, regained her composure, and then finished her studies at Yale. I’m not saying that this will solve everything, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

  • anubis

    Wow wow wow, YDN. Not impressing as of late. Are there any rules or journalistic best practices necessary BEFORE unburdening this much confidential patient information and personal confidence on the public? Were they followed here, perhaps by reading HIPAA or reaching out to the Wang family?

    • kgiov

      HIPAA refers to the law regulating disclosure of privileged health information by health care providers and health care institutions. HIPAA does not preclude friends or family members from disclosing information that Luchang Wang chose to divulge; nor is there any legal or ethical obligation for a journalist not to publish what they say. In this case, the information, while undoubtedly painful for Ms. Wang’s friends and family, highlights an important problem that may endanger the safety and well-being of other Yale students if it’s not addressed. Of course the causes of suicide are complex, and Yale’s readmission policy cannot be solely blamed for anyone’s decision to take his or her own life… but the policy clearly has the potential to be a significant deterrent for students who need a medical leave. It’s already hard enough for many mentally ill students to seek and receive care — we don’t need to create disincentives for these students by threatening them with effective expulsion from Yale for doing so.

    • confoundedexperiments

      I do appreciate the sentiment, and privacy’s important. But many of these friends are simply honoring Luchang’s wish (which she explicitly and recently stated to many of her friends) that her story one day be used to change this process, as soon as the process couldn’t be used against her. Now, she’s beyond its reach. Time to move on and continue her loving work.

  • Guest

    I want to understand Dean George as a complex, nuanced person, but she purposely can be very opaque. She comes off as a flat stereotype of someone who has to follow rules in a Draconian manner in order to survive in a white, male, unintentionally racist institution….I feel bad for her…but then again, she’s also depressing and shows no warmth or kindness or understanding of diversity in terms of other people’s ideas…she’s always kind of been that way. I’m not surprised to read of her in this context, to be honest.

    • ShadrachSmith

      It is called the Gatekeeper Syndrome (aka exercising Priestessosity) and is common among senior nurses and admissions professionals. Big Nurse in One flew over the cuckoo’s nest is the primary literary example. There is no cure, and they get meaner with age.

  • GGBridgeSuicides

    Sincere condolences to Ms. Wang’s family and friends in the wake of this tragedy.
    Reporting a suicide can be difficult but appropriate in some circumstances. My take on this story was about Yale and its policies and how they can have extreme effects on certain individuals in certain circumstances. The conversation of mental health and the crisis of suicide needs to be discussed, in public. To say that people with mental health issues shouldn’t attend this or any other university or college, is naive. One of 4 individuals will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives, and young adults and teenagers are not immune.

    The only edit I would make to this story would be to add ” If you or anyone you know is thinking of suicide, please call the National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK ”

    Otherwise the reporting follows the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s recommendations for reporting on suicide. https://www.afsp.org/news-events/for-the-media/reporting-on-suicide

  • Thoughts from Real Life

    As someone who went through the readmission process, I would say that the process itself caused far more mental stress than necessary. These points are in no particular order, but all were things that could be improved.

    1. As many others have mentioned, there are no statistics how students are judged for readmission. You don’t know whether it’s 50%, 40%, or 10%. I believe the regulations also state that you can be pushed back another semester based on room available in the college. You’re told to make contingency plans for the next semester because they don’t HAVE TO let you back in (continuously emphasized throughout). For students who are used to achieving things through hard work, have zero sense of self-control over this situation and no way to judge the probability of getting back in, the process is extremely nerve-wracking, and for me, greatly exacerbated my mental stress.

    2. Dean George and her secretary, Lisa Miller, were awful people to deal with during the readmission process in terms of mental health. Each time I called to ask Lisa a clarifying question regarding the admissions process, she would find some way to imply that I wasn’t trying hard enough, or was trying to deceive the Readmission Committee, or just clearly didn’t belong at Yale ( I’m happy to provide examples for anyone who doubts this). Dean George either did not respond to my emails asking for clarifications, or responded to very politely written emails in terse / rude replies. For people who are already under mental stress / illness, this was not healthy AT ALL. It made you feel like they did not care about your return.

    3. (This may only apply to students from lower-income families). One of the requirements is to take two classes while away to demonstrate that you are “able to continue at Yale standards” when you return. While I was fortunately able to work a part-time job to do this, for people who are just trying to get mentally healthy again, this may not be a possibility. Furthermore, not every family has $2000+ laying around to pay for this when they may need to the money to pay rent. This is added mental stress for the student and his/ her family. In addition, there are airplane costs associated with traveling to / from Yale for the interview ($500 for me), and last-minute plane ticket fees, since they don’t tell you that you’re readmitted until a week before school starts (another $500). There’s also a $50 application fee. That’s at least $3000+ for a withdrawal, not counting lost wages from graduating / starting work later than anticipated.

    I could write another ten points about how the process exacerbates mental illness, but I think you get the point. And as for Luchang, even though I never knew you, I’m sorry we failed you. I hope you’re able to be free now, wherever you are.

    • Guest18

      As someone currently on a medical leave, I agree with everything you’ve said. I’m extremely lucky that my college Dean is knowledgeable and kind (meaning I won’t have to interact with Dean George for a couple more months), but even so the process is so opaque that I have no idea what I should be prioritizing–getting well or looking good to the school.

      Cost is a huge issue for my family. I’m on almost 100% financial aid, and I had to delay my formal withdrawal and stay in New Haven for almost a week after I withdrew because getting a flight within 72 hours wasn’t a financial option for us. Our insurance doesn’t cover all the medical treatment I need, and it’s unclear whether we’ll have enough money for me to take those two credits this year. They’re required to be at a four-year institution–even though for many of us a community college is the only viable option. I have no idea how I would pay for the last-minute flight back if I’m not readmitted, since I certainly won’t be able to afford to fly back and forth after my interview two weeks before the beginning of term. And as much as Yale likes to say it supports lower-income students, it offers no aid whatsoever during the readmission process.

      And I’m one of the lucky ones–my formal reason for withdrawing is an issue with my physical health, not mental. The withdrawal process and the administration surrounding it are frightening. We’ve already lost control over the health of our bodies or minds, and to be set adrift in a system where transparency is a myth does nothing to empower us to heal. With empty reassurances about withdrawal on one side and the fear of forced leave or hospitalization on the other, it’s not hard to see how an already struggling student could feel trapped.

      I didn’t know Luchang, but I do know this system, and I do know this culture. Both failed her. We can certainly honor her memory by pushing for institutional change, and we should. But we should also honor her by consciously working to make Yale an environment where we can speak about mental illness without fear of being reported or forced out–where we value one another for the people we become, not the degrees we receive, and are allowed dignity in every part of our journeys.

      May her memory be a blessing.

      • yalie2

        Tell them you can’t afford to take the classes at a four year university. That’s what I did, and I was allowed to take them at a community college.

        I went through readmission twice, and it really wasn’t bad either time. If anything, I was surprised how much they trusted me when I told them that I was okay to return. If they have reason to believe that someone may be a threat to themselves or others, then that is probably a very different and more difficult situation.

        The people involved in the readmission process are there to help you. The feeling I got was that there isn’t a particularly large risk of not getting readmitted. I think it basically comes down to whether they see any particular reason why you should not be in the college environment. I took two community college classes and sat around for a few months, and they didn’t seem to have any problem with that.

        • Thoughts from Real Life

          It’s really great that you personally had a good experience with the readmission committee (and thanks for sharing the tip about community college!– that was never mentioned to me throughout the process), but the important point to understand here is that many, many other students who’ve gone through the process have found it to be mentally stressful.

          I shared my experience as a way to validate the feelings of others going through the process who find it stressful and confusing. This is really what we need in general as humans– people who empathize with us when we’re going through difficult times, not people who tell us that we’re overreacting or that our interpretations of the situation are wrong. i personally did not feel that they were there to help me– rather, i felt like they were trying to understand whether I would be a liability to them, and that is how I was treated. This sentiment has also been echoed in other YDN pieces about the readmission process.

          • yalie2

            I’m not trying to argue against anything you’re saying so much as I’m just trying to reassure the other student as s/he goes through the process.

        • confoundedexperiments

          I had a friend who tried for two or three years to get readmitted and kept getting turned down. She had taken something like four or six classes and gotten As, had held full-time jobs with recommendations from her employers, doctor’s note, everything. I’m very glad you had a good experience and were readmitted. Just sharing a story to show that for other people, there is a significant risk of being turned down.

    • confoundedexperiments

      So many people I know have had ridiculous financial hardship in this process.

      $3,000 (as you said)
      + $3,000 – $6,000 hospital expenses (whether you want the service or not, you must pay, because they lock you inside)
      + $2000 – $4,000 rent, food, personal expenses if you can’t go home (e.g., abusive family or there’s no college nearby)
      + possibly up to $45,000 lost tuition (if you’re past certain rebate deadlines)
      + probably more that I’m forgetting

      = $8,000 – $53,000 +
      And, as you aptly pointed out, that’s not counting $40,000- $80,000 lost wages

  • yalie2

    Just a quick PSA: for those that are frustrated with Yale Health and can afford to go elsewhere, there are excellent treatment opportunities outside of Yale Health. I go to the Yale Stress Center where I pay a $15 copay for my appointments. It’s not free like Yale Health, but the treatment is excellent, the doctors are less busy, and it’s still pretty affordable if you have insurance.

    • confoundedexperiments

      That’s interesting! Though…I don’t know what type of insurance you have, but I’m not sure if out-of-network would have that low of a copay. Insurance coverage by region can get really wonky.

  • angry

    Thank god this is being said. I have known many friends who have faced this same issue, Luchang among them. Any policy that encourages students to lie in therapy (and this does), and forces them away from their support network (a friend of mine was very strongly encouraged not to live in new haven, as this might not “give him the space he needed to recover” and thus jeopardize his readmission), is NOT GOOD FOR STUDENTS. It only helps yale avoid liability and responsibility..

    Students talk to each other about readmission. During my 4 years at Yale I learned not to trust Yale’s mental health program. I saw friends discourage others from going, precisely because of the fear that they are not on our side. This needs to change.

    Luchang was an incredible person. Yale, please, please do not let is happen again.

  • ar93

    this is so, so sad. BUT yale administrators are at least sometimes receptive to student concerns and they will consider making changes if you talk to them… idk if these are the exact right people to talk to in this circumstance but dr spangler and dr genecin are good people

  • Yale2012

    This is a multifaceted problem with great depths making it easy to throw blame around. Not very effective. No one solution will solve it. My experience with Withdrawing proved how messed up my life was not really how messed up Yale was. I’m in a much better place now although I wasn’t readmitted the first time. My dean was not helpful at all. I refused to talk in depth with her. The most calming, supportive, honest, wise person to reach out to me was Dean George. I would have left Yale for good had it not been for her support. So much so that I took two of my other readmit friends advice and asked Dean G to be my academic advisor. I was lost, not clear on a major or passions and she guided me through.

    I’d like to see less of a process to leave and come back… Can’t blame the messenger when you’re told you can’t come back when YOU think you’re ready. Policy decisions start at the top. The procedures are decided on by senior admin (Dean of Yale, Dean of students and probably legal counsel and the corporation. ) Several people form a Committee to make a decision about Readmission. One person makes a decision in mental health services to withdraw you. Dr. Siggins. Mental health withdrawals are driven by mental health experts. I made life difficult for all of them and they weren’t having it lol. I needed to go and wasn’t ready to come back although i wanted to come back earlier than they let me. That extra time of a few months was so beneficial and I was readmitted at the right time. I was scared of the process until I met Deqn George. She was a breath of fresh air but I wouldn’t want to go through withdrawal again.

    • confoundedexperiments

      I’ve heard almost the same “breath of air” description of Dean George before. She seems lovely…I wonder why she seems to have such a small role in direct contact with the student throughout the student’s time away. She seems like she’d be a huge help.

      • Yale2012

        I think that Yale has a tendency to devalue their best advocates/ambassadors/leaders. Those that speak out (as I know Dean G has done) are often ignored. All I can say is in my large circle of peers/ friends who’ve gone through Readmission, some feel that they would not have any self worth left if it had not been for Dean George. Breath of fresh air is probably an understatement. She’s a life saver for sure. She reaches out often. She is respectfully honest and clear. Of course no one hits it off with everyone.,. Yet, there are many beautiful accounts about her work, wisdom and rescue. Some of us would not be here if not for Dean G. That said, changes are needed in a process that has been in place a long time. But not really changes in Readmission, there should be changes in what it means to be a Yale student. (Btw: Dean G is hip and she gives the best relationship advice and academic advice.). Go talk to her but know you’ll sometimes be challenged and forced to confront yourself!

    • Guest

      I found Dean George to be the most understanding and down-to-earth authority figure during the process of two withdrawals (and three readmission attempts) my senior year(s).

      I had extensive email and phone correspondences with her. She promptly (no thanks to Lisa Miller) addressed all my questions in the most appropriate manner possible.

      Because applicants are required to show initiative while being away and because Dean George is not the sole decision maker in matters of readmission, to offer conclusive answers to specific questions regarding certain activities in order to fulfill the “constructively occupied” requirement (e.g., number of hours/week, type of work, etc.), would be inappropriate. To do so would be offering false hope.

      That’s why some might describe Dean George as cold, discouraging, or unhelpful. But after being denied readmission the first time I reapplied, I was glad that she had made it clear that admission was not guaranteed.

      But addressing the issue: The ambiguity of the process is incredibly stressful and could certainly benefit from a revision that incorporates the needs of each student and explicit terms for readmission.

  • Rex

    I don’t understand the attitude that leads people to believe they should be able to withdraw and re-enroll at their leisure as many times as they choose. How can any organization allow its students or employees to do that without total disruption of operation? I would not expect to be retained in my employment were I to request multiple leaves of absence. Once you enter the world of gainful employment you will find even less understanding than Yale.

    • confoundedexperiments

      Most Yale students I know feel guilty about asking for a dean’s excuse when they have the flu. Yale students won’t leave Yale willy-nilly for trivial reasons. That’s a serious disruption of one’s life and finances. I mean, if we all had tens of thousands of dollars and years of educational delay to spare on a whim, your criticism might make sense. But we don’t.

      Most people who leave are forced. Almost everyone I know who’s left more than once has been forced. I’ve never known anyone to leave for a trivial reason, voluntarily or not.

    • Nikkina

      Some recommended reading:

      http://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.htm
      http://ycc.yale.edu/files/2014/03/YCC-Withdrawal-Policies.pdf

      Nobody’s asking that students be allowed to “withdraw and re-enroll at their leisure”. We’re asking for compassion for extremely ill students, as well as respect for their rights.

      I spent time away from Yale working both in my field and at a minimum wage job, and found both much more understanding about my poor health than Yale was.

    • ozzie

      Would you have the same response regarding a student who asked to return after a absences related to cancer treatment? Mental health illnesses should be given the same compassion and just policies. Interestingly, I am now reading an autobiography of a former Yale Law student, now a professor at University of Southern California Law School, who suffered from mental illness and had to take off time and then was allowed to return to her studies in the 1989’s. The book is The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks.

  • Jonny-O

    One point that could be brought up is how these leave policies affect graduate students. A grad student I know was dealing with a mental health issue that might have been resolved but unfortunately, Yale does not extend medical insurance too long to graduate students when they take a medical leave. Thus, he was able to do counseling for a short time, but was unable to get enough other work in New Haven that he could afford to continue his health insurance and counseling so that he could actually recover. He was basically stranded here, having moved here for school. The university basically requires grad students on medical leave to continue their treatment, but then does not offer them the tools to do so. Thus, if you are a grad student and take a medical leave, you had basically just quit unless you have parents who can pay for your treatment and health. Otherwise, you will never be able to get back in getting work in New Haven which will likely not offer you the insurance needed to get the ok to return. It is sad to see that Yale’s policies, which have affected my friend so badly may have exacerbated someone else’s desperation and led to a sad incident. Although it may not have been the only cause, I think that the university policy is not so sacred that it can’t bend a bit to help students. After all, isn’t the point of this university to help students (grad and undergrad) learn and succeed? Or maybe it’s just a corporation that can’t spare a bit of its excess money to fund relatively cheap insurance from its own vast medical facilities. Sometimes its really hard to have much faith in an institution that has a budget surplus but cuts and cuts spending on graduate students and insurance.