On Tuesday, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization staged a rally in front of the School of Management’s Evans Hall advocating for better mental health resources on campus. In particular, students from across the University and GESO supporters came together behind Grant Mao, an international student from China who suffers from depression and was dismissed from the SOM’s MBA program at the end of the last academic year due to poor academic performance.
The rally came after yesterday’s submission of two GESO petitions — one addressed to the SOM administration calling for Mao’s immediate reinstatement on the grounds of unfair dismissal, and another to University Provost Ben Polak, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley and Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin summarizing issues with Yale’s mental health system and demanding comprehensive mental health care reform for graduate and professional students. In particular, the second petition addressed four main issues: long wait times at Yale Health’s Mental Health & Counseling, the cap of 12 MH&C sessions available to graduate students using Yale Health’s services, compatibility between MH&C counselors and patients and the financial burden faced by graduate students on medical leave who must seek and pay for costlier health care packages. GESO’s petition comes amidst broader campus discussions about the limitations of current mental health services in place at Yale, particularly for students of color.
At the rally, many were visibly moved by Mao’s experiences, which organizers called unfair. But the story Mao and GESO tell about his dismissal does not fit into the framework of standard procedures for mental health support and dismissal as is described by SOM administrators.
“My experience is a combination of discrimination against my ethnicity and against my disability,” Mao told the News. His grievances against the SOM mainly involved the lack of mental health resources offered to him by the administration during his struggle, and what he called an unfair review process of his academic performance and mental health.
In particular, Mao believed that his background as a Chinese international student played a significant role in the administration’s decision to dismiss him. Others who experienced mental health struggles received warnings from and had meetings with administrators, who provided them with tutoring services and mental health counseling sessions — both of which were not offered to him, he said. Instead, Mao said the administration assumed that he had a strong quantitative background because he was Chinese and should not be performing so poorly in his classes because he was from China.
SOM administrators said both University policy and federal law preclude the school from divulging confidential information about particular student without the student’s permission. Mao declined to give the school permission to discuss his case as of Tuesday night.
After Mao arrived from Shanghai last fall as a first-year SOM student, a series of unfortunate circumstances eventually led to his depression diagnosis, according to his petition for reinstatement, which was written both in Chinese and English. His fiancee broke up with him last October and his mother suffered from a heart attack this January, Mao wrote on the petition. As an international student, Mao explained that the language barrier and cultural shock he experienced also contributed to the worsening of his mental health. Mao said he was simply overwhelmed.
“After reading about Yale’s punitive stance toward others suffering from mental health, I did not believe I could seek treatment without being stigmatized and punished,” Mao wrote in his petition. But eventually, Mao’s depression became so severe that he was hospitalized for six days the same month he learned of his dismissal.
Mao said he was dismissed from the SOM because he did not meet the school’s minimum academic standards. In general, Senior Associate Dean for the MBA Program Anjani Jain said students in the MBA program take 33 credits through the Core Curriculum during their first year. He added that there are two ways in which students can not meet the basic requirements: when more than 15 credit units within the Core Curriculum are below “proficient” or when they accumulate more than four units of “fail” grades. Mao told the News that he had 15.5 credit units below “proficient” and two “fail” grades, explaining that he had missed the minimum standards by just a half-credit.
In April, when the administration dismissed Mao from the SOM, he was told that his mental health coverage as a student would be terminated immediately and that he had 15 days to pack his belongings and leave the country before the expiration of his student visa. With the help of his friends, Mao said he was able to secure a student visa from a nearby language school and later from the University of New Haven. Currently, Mao has one more month before the termination of his student visa from UNH.
After learning of the administration’s decision in April, Mao said he appealed his dismissal on May 21, submitting both his medical records of depression and evidence of his professors’ grading errors. According to Mao’s written statement in Chinese, he found obvious errors in the grading of three of his courses. Reassessing his work in any of the three classes could have prevented his dismissal, but his professors refused to regrade his work given his dismissal. This fact was not mentioned in the English version of the petition. Mao also said SOM did not offer sufficient mental health resources to him while he was struggling, though he did not provide specifics.
According to Jain, at the midway point of a student’s first fall semester, the SOM’s Academic Standards Committee invites up to 10 percent of students who are accumulating below-proficient grades at a rate that could impair their academic standing to formal counseling sessions. During the sessions, the committee asks students whether they are facing difficulties — including extenuating circumstances such as family- and health-related issues — and offers advice, tutoring, counseling assistance and language training as needed, Jain added.
Jain said at the end of each half-semester grading period, more counseling sessions are scheduled if the student continues to accumulate non-proficient grades at a high rate. If students continue to face these extenuating circumstances, the committee suggests that the student consider alternatives such as taking a leave of absence, though the final decision is left to the student. When it is requested for health reasons, a leave of absence is almost always granted, Jain said.
Still, Mao said although he was performing poorly during his first fall semester, he was never contacted for a meeting with the Academic Standards Committee and only heard about the meetings from other SOM students who met with the committee. Though Mao was struggling academically at the time, it is possible that he did not fall within the bottom 10 percent of the class by the end of the fall semester. Mao said he could not remember how many classes he had failed by the end of his fall semester.
In January, Mao scheduled a meeting with SOM Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and Student Life Sherilyn Scully to discuss his grades and mental health. Mao said during his meetings with Scully and several that followed, he was never offered information about mental health resources nor a leave of absence, although he openly talked about his mental health struggles.
Scully, who also serves as an ex officio member of the Academic Standards Committee, said that at meetings with students accumulating below-proficient grades, those showing signs of stress-related or mental health issues are always encouraged by the committee to seek professional help from Yale Health. The committee also offers a leave of absence and explains the flexible terms of leaves of absence.
Moreover, the school incorporates mental health resources into its orientation program for new students, Scully said. During mandatory sessions at orientation, representatives from Yale Health give a presentation on the health resources available for students, including mental health resources.
The Academic Standards Committee has “absolutely never” conveyed a direct or implied message that there would be negative or punitive reactions to a student seeking mental health resource assistance, Scully said.
Mao also cited his ethnicity as a reason for his unfair treatment by the administration. Jain said he is “appalled” by the accusation and called it “unthinkable.”
“This has never occurred, and will never occur in any student situation,” Jain said.
After an unsuccessful attempt to gain readmission over the summer, Mao said he contacted GESO to seek supporters for his cause.
GESO Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said GESO has demonstrated four times in the last 18 months for a union contract. Citing Mao’s case as well as testimony from several other students, Greenberg said GESO will fight for better mental health regardless of whether the group has a contract. In particular, Greenberg commended Mao for stepping up and sharing his story to advance a worthy cause.
“The thing that continues to strike me [about Mao’s case] is that he could have fallen through the cracks,” Greenberg told the News. “But he stayed here and fought for [the cause] not just for himself…There’s a lot of work that we all came here to do, and we want to have the adequate resources so that we could be healthy while we’re doing it.”
The SOM first began to offer the MBA degree in 1999.