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Yale student group wants to see mental health 'culture shift' following federal lawsuit settlement

Yale University New Haven, CT
Emilie Foyer
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File - Yale University New Haven, CT

Yale University, the student group Elis for Rachel and two other student plaintiffs — Alicia Abramson and Hannah Neves — reached a settlement in a federal class action lawsuit alleging discrimination against students with mental illness.

“This is a landmark settlement about rights and about belonging for students with mental health disabilities; people who have felt stigmatized for generations,” said Dr. Alicia Floyd, Yale alumna and co-founder of Elis for Rachael. “This settlement makes the whole process of leaving and coming back to Yale for mental health, and other medical reasons, so much less isolating and painful.”

In particular, the lawsuit alleged that Yale pressured students to withdraw instead of allowing them a medical leave of absence.

“The key now is in implementation of these new policies so that students know that their school’s concern is genuine, and not just something that just looks good on paper,” said Floyd. “I really hope this settlement represents a beginning of a culture shift towards inclusiveness and awareness of mental health in the context of disability rights.”

In a statement from Yale, Pericles Lewis, dean of Yale College, said he hoped that the changes that have emerged from discussions with student groups would make it easier for students “to ask for support, focus on their health and wellbeing, and take time off if they wish, knowing that they can resume their studies when they are ready.”

In an Aug. 25 letter to students, Melanie Boyd, dean of student affairs at Yale College, laid out the changes.

“The most notable change was last year’s creation of a medical leave of absence — formerly a medical withdrawal — that gives students more flexibility with health insurance, campus jobs, class registration, and other elements of student life,” Boyd said. “This summer, other policies have now been adapted to provide more flexibility in the minimum course load for students in urgent medical circumstances.”

Elis for Rachel was created after the death by suicide of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum, a first-year student, in 2021.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call, text or chat with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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