Like many of her friends, I was filled with fear the moment I checked my Facebook on Jan. 27 and saw that Luchang Wang ’17 had written a suicide note. I joined a panicked group searching the campus for her, until the police called it off; she had flown to California. Then came several hours of hopelessly checking my email, followed at 5:53 p.m. by the cold, crushing despair at the knowledge that my friend had killed herself. That hasn’t lifted. I don’t know when it will.
Like many, I am searching for ways to convince Yale to make changes to its mental health policies — to make our campus a safer space for people suffering from mental illness.
I will offer one suggestion here: boycott the Senior Class Gift. In doing so, seniors can demand the University change its archaic policies on mental health. These policies have hurt too many students, including Luchang.
As you probably already know, Luchang’s life was one of brilliance and generosity, but it also must be viewed as a painful tragedy. While she was a student here, she suffered from serious mental illness haphazardly kept at bay by her medication.
Knowing the bureaucratic hurdles she had already encountered and facing the possibility that she would be asked to leave the University again if she disclosed the full extent of her illness, she lied to her doctors here. In the suicide note she wrote before her death, Luchang expressed her love for Yale and the community she found here. But she also described her fear of having to leave the University for a full year or, worse still, of never being readmitted.”
Although most stories thankfully do not end as Luchang’s did, her experiences represent a continuation of many other stories of Yale mistreating and ostracizing its mentally ill students. In March 2014, the News published a series of stories that chronicled students’ confrontation with the cold bureaucracy of Yale Mental Health and Counseling.
One student, Rachel Williams ’17, recalled being interrogated and eventually involuntarily withdrawn. Another student, Stewart McDonald ’15, wrote that Yale’s readmission process made it clear that the University too often sees mentally ill students as liabilities rather than as students suffering from an illness.
We must, as students, acknowledge the importance of our role in forming a supportive community and work together to make Yale as warm and receptive as possible. But part of our responsibility entails recognizing that the Yale administration plays a serious role in the pain of our mentally ill classmates. The University has, time and time again, abrogated its responsibility to its most vulnerable students and resisted reforms that Yale students have been suggesting for years. We must push the University to change its stance towards mentally ill students immediately.
According to the Senior Class of 2015 Gift website, the fund is a chance for donors to “signal [our] endorsement of Yale and its future.” Furthermore, these initial donations and sky-high participation rates often suggest to the broader public that every graduating senior loved his or her time at Yale. Indeed, the administration takes the senior class’s participation very seriously — the costs of fundraising for it may very easily exceed the money it raises.
But I don’t believe we can endorse Yale while the University’s policies on mental health continue to needlessly harm our classmates. As such, I call on seniors to boycott the Senior Class Gift until Yale reforms its mental health policies.
I co-authored a pledge with six classmates who similarly care about this issue. I urge others to sign the pledge, which can be found on the Class of 2015’s official Facebook page. In this pledge, we call upon Yale to take decisive action on mental health reform. In March 2014, the Yale College Council published a report outlining recommendations for improving the University’s withdrawal and leave of absence policies, focusing in particular on the readmission process and the window of time at the beginning of the semester in which students are able to withdraw for that term alone.
Unless Yale implements the recommendations proposed by the YCC or comparably decisive reforms, I and the other signatories of this pledge will not donate to the Senior Class Gift.
If you are a senior, I hope you sign this pledge. If you feel comfortable, I urge you to publicly announce your participation in this boycott. Through our collective action, we can make a strong statement to Yale that its heartless behavior toward the mentally ill cannot continue. We cannot be ignored again. Yale’s needless failure cannot continue. Rachel, Stewart and Luchang deserved better. Future Yale students deserve better. The stakes are too high.
Geoffrey Smith is a senior in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.