Towards the end of last semester, I was admitted to Aurora Charter Oak Hospital for suicidal ideation. I had never been in an American hospital before, much less a mental hospital, so I didn’t know what to expect from my stay.
But I thought I knew what to expect from the college in handling my case. I had assumed equipping me with the vocabulary to articulate myself meant that the college would listen to me when I needed them to. I had assumed immersing me in heavy-handed political discourse meant that the college would give an honest attempt at responding to my decisions and demands. I had assumed my safety at this college would be respected and protected.
That was not the case. Here’s what I learned instead:
The Dean of Students Office can lie. I didn’t want my parents to know of my hospitalization (for reasons I had explained to Dean Jan prior and had reminded her of as soon as I was told I was going to get admitted). As an adult, I have the right to keep my personal information from being disclosed to a third party. Though it is typically protocol, the school has no legal obligation whatsoever to inform my parents. I was told that, if I didn’t want them to, my parents wouldn’t be notified.
In my second day at the hospital, I received a phone call from my parents. This meant they that a) they were notified, b) they were given the exact name of the hospital, and c) they could easily see it was because of mental illness. I was not ready to have that kind of conversation with them, and I was told that that was going to be respected. It wasn’t.
The Dean of Students Office can lie. I was repeatedly told that I was going to be checked in for two to three days. My third day was a Saturday, and so a visiting psychiatrist told me he wouldn’t discharge me. He said I looked fine, but because I was a student, he wanted to make sure my college was ready to accept me. I relayed this to Dean Jan who visited me the next day, saying she was surprised I wasn’t discharged yet, and she said, “we’re ready.”
The following Monday, I had all the checks for a discharge but the hospital told me they couldn’t release me because the college wasn’t ready. I told them to call the Dean, which they did and they said the Dean would come pick me up the next day (I don’t want to begin to describe how long a day is in that place). So they weren’t ready. I had been directly lied to, for the second time.
During that same visit, Dean Jan told me enough students go to Charter Oaks for all the staff there to know her by name and by face. She said this in a way that made it seem like she was confiding in me. Me, a first-year student in my first semester who thought I was a very rare case for having sought out help to that extent. No student is told about any of the hospitalizations, despite them happening so regularly.
A member of the Residence Hall Staff told me afterward that it is very common for students to take a leave of absence or be hospitalized. Students are seeking long-term breaks from campus on a daily basis and no one knows anything about it. My sponsors and RA weren’t notified of my absence from campus and wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t texted my RA. Apparently, it makes more sense to disclose my exact location to my abusive family, who are half-way across the world and who the Dean had specifically agreed not to tell, than to give notice of my absence to my sponsors or RA, who are down the hall and and who I’m constantly told by this institution are my number-one point of contact–the people I can turn to to look out for me.
This level of maltreatment has happened before. Yi Li PO’ 14 published an article almost exactly two years ago about her case with mental health-related hospitalization. In response, the Dean of Students Office held discussions “to hear from students, and to discuss…policies to support students with mental health issues.” So either the discussions were not taken as seriously as they were made out to have been, or the attention span of the administration is shorter than a student’s time here.
I need this school to be honest with me. I need to feel like I can be honest with this school, and right now that’s just not the case. Right now, this school is not being honest about the support it can provide, whether through the Dean of Students or RHS staff and students. It is not being honest about how many students are in dire need of support. Right now, we students are all just given heavy vocabulary with no guide as to how to use them – so we can speak to impress but not to express ourselves and our hurt. So we can call to action but not be given the chance to take it. So we can point to pain, but not be given adequate resources to heal.
Samantha Borje PO '19 is a Molecular Biology major from Hong Kong. She is currently a staffer at the Pomona College Women’s Union as well as an Advocate for Survivors of Sexual Assault.