Students 'never' removed from residence over self-harm threats: Acadia
Published Monday, February 9, 2015 6:26AM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 9, 2015 12:20PM EST
Officials at Acadia University say “there has never been a case” at the school where a student was evicted from residence because he or she threatened self-harm. This is in response to a student’s claim that he was ousted after revealing severe anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide to a school official.
In an editorial published Thursday in a student newspaper entitled "Go die somewhere else," second-year psychology major Blake Robert alleges he was "evicted without notice" by the manager of the school's Residence Life office and the director of the Student Resource Centre last December.
In his editorial, Robert says he "had been suffering through a severe bout of anxiety and depression," and had considered ending his life.
In response, the university says students have never been expelled from residence for revealing that they considered hurting themselves.
“There has never been a case at Acadia where a student has been removed from residence for the sole reason that they have threatened self-harm. We simply would not do that,” reads the letter to the editor of The Athenaeum in response to the original article.
“There have been times, though, where the special needs of an individual have exceeded the University’s capacity to provide the adequate and necessary support for their own safety and well-being, as well as supporting and protecting others who are in close proximity or have direct contact with the individual.”
In the letter, officials would not elaborate on the specific details of the case, noting the school's responsibility to protect the privacy of the individual and others who may be involved in the situation.
The letter stressed that the school takes the mental and emotional well-being of its students seriously and has made it a "fundamental component" of its services framework.
It lists the several different mental health resources and services available to students, including support lines, peer counselling, professional counsellors, doctors and nurses.
"We care deeply about our students; it is a hallmark of who we are at Acadia," the letter concluded.
"We are saddened that any individual feels that their needs have not been met, but we remain committed to working with students to maintain a healthy, respectful and supportive environment."
'I felt worthless'
In his piece, Robert described how he felt as his depression set in and the steps he says he took to reach out for help.
"In my case, I felt worthless. Sometimes I even felt as if life were no longer real. I was lonely and isolated even in the midst of friends, lacking the energy, motivation, and appetite to enjoy the things I once did," Robert wrote.
"My classes gave me purpose and something to keep my mind occupied, but I felt hopelessly cloaked in darkness and I lacked the means to lift the veil. Depression insidiously warped my very identity and view of the world."
He reached out for help, eventually exchanging emails and meeting with a don from Residence Life. He had an appointment with a counsellor, which he was ultimately unable to keep due to his eviction, he said.
"I felt supported. I felt hopeful. I felt like I could get through this and focus on recovery after exams. I was reminded that I have a life ahead of me, that it didn't have to all end here," Robert wrote.
"Two days later, I heard the knock. My visitors had just come back from a safety and security meeting where my situation was discussed. I was told I wasn't safe and was being 'asked to leave.'"
Robert wrote that he was told he would be allowed to finish that term's exams, and his mother was called to pick him up from her home less than an hour away from the school.
"I felt helpless and hopeless," Robert wrote. "I thought I would receive help, but instead lost my privilege to even live at Acadia. I was expelled from the residence community. I lost the social support of my friends. I no longer had the opportunity to go to the counselling appointment I had the next day."
Robert said he received no warning about his eviction and was given no opportunity to advocate for himself.
"It was profoundly painful. They would allow me to die, as long as it was off-campus," he wrote.
At a sit-down meeting with officials from Residence Life and the Student Resource Centre, Robert said he was told he would be suspended from residence until September 2015, or until he could prove he was mentally well enough to return.
Robert said the manager of Residence Life cited emails Robert sent to the don as evidence that he was a threat to others because he was suicidal.
He says that the manager of Residence Life told him that staff are essentially landlords and that his mental-health issues were too severe for them to be expected to allow him to stay in residence.
Later, in a letter Robert and his family asked for to explain the decision to expel him from residence, Guy wrote that Residence Life needed time to figure out if it could keep him safe on campus, Robert said.
In a telephone interview, Robert says that "the very worst thing" he revealed to the don was that "I had been developing plans" for ending his life.
"But I made it very obvious that I was talking to her to get help, I wanted to get better," Robert told CTVNews.ca. "I certainly didn't want to die, though it felt that way at the time."
In his editorial, Robert wrote that suspending a student deemed a suicide risk does nothing to protect others. Rather, it prevents the suicidal student from easy access to support.
Matthew Guy, manager of Residence Life, last referred questions about the editorial to Acadia's executive director of communications and marketing, Scott Roberts. Roberts supplied CTVNews.ca with the letter to the editor of The Athenaeum.
He also said that the school will not make further comment on the issue.
Meanwhile, Robert is continuing his studies, and is now living in off-campus housing. He said he finished last term's exams, but is sure his performance suffered.
He noted that overall, Acadia has strong mental health services via its Counselling Centre and its commitment to hosting a Mental Health Week.
Robert told CTVNews.ca that he considered filing a formal complaint with the school, but in the end decided that "public discourse is a much better way of achieving things."
He would like to see Acadia institute a policy for dealing with students with life-threatening mental illness, which he would be happy to help develop.