Yale University settles a lawsuit alleging it pressured students with mental health problems to withdraw

Yale University and a student group announced Friday that they have reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit accusing the Ivy League school of discriminating against students with mental disabilities, including urging them to drop out.

As part of the agreement, Yale will change its policies regarding sick leave, including streamlining the reinstatement process for students returning to campus. The student group, which also represents alumni, had argued the process was tedious and for decades discouraged students from taking sick leave when they needed it most.

The settlement marks a “watershed moment” for the university and for patients with mental illness, said Rishi Mirchandani, a 2019 graduate co-founder of Elis for Rachael, the group that sued. It was established to help students with mental health issues in honor of a Yale student who took her own life.

“This historic agreement confirms that students with mental health problems really do belong,” said Mirchandani.

A joint statement by Elis for Rachael and Yale released Friday confirmed the agreement “to resolve a lawsuit filed in federal district court last November related to policies and practices affecting students with mental disabilities.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Yale will allow students to study part-time if they have urgent medical needs. Elis für Rachael said it is the first time the university has offered such an option. Students who are granted accommodation at the beginning of a new semester receive a 50 percent reduction in tuition fees.

“Although Yale describes the circumstances for this adjustment as ‘rare,’ this change nonetheless represents a consistent departure from the traditional all-or-nothing attitude toward participation in Yale academic life,” the group said in a statement.

Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis said he was “pleased with today’s outcome”.

He said “constructive ideas” came from students and alumni, and said in a statement that he hopes the changes “will make it easier for students to ask for support to focus on their health and well-being.” and to take time off when they wish, when they know they can return to their studies when they are ready.”

In a November letter to alumni in response to a Washington Post article on student mental health and Yale’s dropout and readmission policies, President Peter Salovey said colleges and universities have seen a surge in demand for mental health services in recent years would have, which was exacerbated by the pandemic. He said Yale has stopped requiring withdrawn students to take two courses at another school before they can apply for readmission.

However, plaintiffs argued that much more was needed, including a more individualized process for students. According to the agreement, the length of a student’s leave of absence would be “based on clinical assessment. Students can stay on medical leave for as long as they like.”

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