Many Pomona College students have complained about the school’s lack of institutional support for mental health, from difficulties getting cleared to return to school after leaves of absence to unclear practices regarding hospitalization and long wait times for appointments. Pomona’s Senior Associate Dean of Students for Personal Success and Wellness, Jan Collins-Eaglin, is the subject of many of these student complaints.
In an email announcement released to Pomona students Dec. 6, Dean of Students Avis Hinkson announced that Collins-Eaglin will begin a phased-out retirement after receiving a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to work on a 7C-wide mental health network that is “comprehensive, collaborative, and evidence-based.”
“I appreciate Dean Jan’s constant support of students and faculty in the fostering of holistic academic success at Pomona College,” Hinkson wrote in the email.
This announcement came a day after a TSL interview with Collins-Eaglin and Hinkson, in which the two deans responded to student complaints regarding Collins-Eaglin’s position.
TSL spoke with students about their experiences with Collins-Eaglin, including seven who were willing to be named.
Policy following leaves of absence
Courtney Dean PO ’19 took a leave of absence in fall 2017. When trying to return to campus, she submitted all of the necessary paperwork and received clearance from her therapist to return to campus. Shortly after, she said she received an email from Collins-Eaglin recommending that she return fall 2018 instead of spring 2018. After Dean contested this recommendation, Collins-Eaglin agreed to allow her to return to campus if she wrote an essay proving her readiness to return to school.
“I was writing for my life,” Dean said. “Imagine the toll that took on my mental health.”
Collins-Eaglin said the clearance process for returning to campus varies student to student, but she has required more than one student to write similar essays in the past.
Though Dean was approved to return for the spring 2018 semester, she was told by Collins-Eaglin that she could only return as a part-time student. However, Dean returned as a full-time student, with the caveat that she had to see Paola Beas, an assistant dean and case manager, upon her return to Pomona.
“I was writing for my life … Imagine the toll that took on my mental health.”
She was cleared in March to study abroad for fall 2018, but received an email over the summer from Janet Dickerson, then-acting dean of students, stating that Dean would no longer be allowed to study abroad because she was on “social supervision.”
“I looked in every policy in the student handbook,” Dean said. She was unable to find a clear definition for “social supervision.” Currently, Section 7 of Pomona website’s “Selection Process” page for study abroad lists being on “social supervision” as a disqualifying status for study abroad, but does not define the term.
Dean said both Collins-Eaglin and Dickerson claimed that meeting with Beas, as Dean had been required to do, had placed Dean on “social supervision.”
“Essentially, because I took a leave of absence, I couldn’t study abroad,” Dean said.
On Dec. 5, Collins-Eaglin said her office relies exclusively on the professional opinion of the student’s therapist when evaluating student clearance for study abroad programs. Hinkson added that a main concern is ensuring continued care is available to students in their study abroad program of choice.
Hospitalization practices unclear to students
Like Dean, Samantha Borje PO ’19, former ASPC director of disability and mental health advocacy, has struggled with Collins-Eaglin in the past. Borje was hospitalized at Aurora Charter Oak Hospital in fall 2015 at the recommendation of Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services.
“My first concern was that I did not want my family to know,” said Borje, citing an abusive relationship with her parents.
Borje said she was informed by Collins-Eaglin that the office had no legal obligation to tell Borje’s parents of her hospitalization, as Borje was over 18.
“She looked me in the eyes and agreed not to tell them,” Borje said. Two days later, Borje received a call from her parents, who knew she had been hospitalized.
Borje wrote a guest opinions piece for TSL in April 2016, detailing her experience at Aurora Charter Oak. Within the same month, Collins-Eaglin wrote a letter to the editor, addressing student concern with mental health on campus with explanations of campus policies and procedures.
“She looked me in the eyes and agreed not to tell them.”
In the Dec. 5 interview, Collins-Eaglin said she is required to inform students’ parents of any change in status, including hospitalization, even if the student is over 18. The office will only withhold information from parents, Collins-Eaglin said, if she receives a note from the student’s therapist.
But, Borje said she was not notified that she needed a therapist’s note.
After receiving clearance from Aurora Charter Oak to return to campus and hearing from Collins-Eaglin that Pomona was willing to accept her back, Borje was told by her case manager that he had received a call from Pomona saying that Pomona was not yet ready to receive Borje. She remained in Aurora Charter Oak’s custody for an additional three days.
Collins-Eaglin denied ever having called any hospitals to stop a student’s discharge.
“The hospital hospitalizes students, and they’re the ones that discharge students,” she said, adding that once a student is discharged and returns to campus, they are evaluated by Monsour.
“If the recommendation is that the student is not ready to return, then I have to abide by that recommendation,” she said.
Sherwin Shabdar PO ’18, former president of 5C Mental Health Alliance, said Collins-Eaglin was “reticent and unhelpful” regarding student concerns surrounding hospitalization.
“Pomona does not have a consistent policy with regards to informing parents about hospitalization,” he said, adding that his attempts to discuss this matter with Collins-Eaglin were met with “ignoring the idea and tailing it.”
Academic accommodations and therapy
Students needing academic accommodations and assistance finding off-campus therapy options have also reported difficulties with Collins-Eaglin.
Preet Khowaja PO ’20 struggled with mental health toward the end of spring 2018. She wrote an email to Collins-Eaglin and was informed that she would need to get clearance for academic accommodations from her therapist.
Khowaja secured clearance in a day but was told by Collins-Eaglin that she had to schedule an appointment in order to move forward, as was protocol. The next appointment with Collins-Eaglin was two weeks from the date of Khowaja’s email.
“At that point, I wasn’t going to classes because I couldn’t leave my room, and it was hard for me to get meals. How could I be expected to go see Dean Jan?” Khowaja said, explaining why she did not attend her appointment with Collins-Eaglin and did not get accommodations that semester. “In the end, I got so fed up that I didn’t care if my grades fell.”
Collins-Eaglin said she is required by law to record an intake of all the student academic accommodations she grants in-person. While the college’s AIM accommodation management system allows students with a history of accommodations to quickly get them again, students with no previous history of accommodations must get a written note from a physician, therapist, or psychiatrist in order to get accomodations and must meet with the dean of wellness.
Noor Dhingra PO ’20, like Khowaja, struggled with Collins-Eaglin’s response time. Searching for off-campus therapy options, they tried to set up an appointment with Collins-Eaglin, and were told that the next available appointment was two weeks later.
Dhingra successfully found off-campus therapy. However, an email sent to students from the Dean of Students office Sept. 4 announced that changes were being made to the out-of-network therapy system. Dhingra was unsure if their therapy would be covered under the new policy.
They reached out to Collins-Eaglin, who referred them to Paola Beas, associate dean and case manager. But after attempting to contact Beas, Dhingra found her unavailable this semester. Dhingra sent Collins-Eaglin a follow-up email asking to meet, but Collins-Eaglin never responded, so Dhingra still has not seen a therapist this semester.
“I wish she was transparent with students,” Dhingra said. “She should give us more information and be clear about what she’s doing instead of redirecting students to people [who aren’t available].”
Response time and communication
Some students reported positive experiences working with Collins-Eaglin in response to physical health concerns but still complained about unresponsiveness.
Spencer Barsh PO ’22 suffered migraines and had a fractured ankle this semester. He reached out to Collins-Eaglin to assist him in obtaining a motorized wheelchair.
“If you can get to see her, she’s amazing, but it’s the actual process of getting to see her that’s difficult,” he said. “It’s clear that Pomona needs more people handling this. We need a faster line of communication because a lot of time, students need quick responses. The main problem is communication and the initial poor communication dissuading future communication.”
“I try as hard as I can to separate and unpack complaints, but sometimes the students are here, they’re angry, and that anger doesn’t go away.”
Maddie Jones PO ’22, who uses a wheelchair, agreed.
“I think the wellness department is really small, and Dean Jan specifically just has a lot to do,” she said.
Collins-Eaglin said her student appointments were often back-to-back, sometimes every 15 minutes, and urgent matters often disrupt scheduled appointments.
“Sometimes, students will need to wait. … [Other times], urgent matters take precedence over day-to-day appointments,” Collins-Eaglin said, explaining that if there are pressing matters, there is an on-call Dean and a system in place to respond immediately.
Hinkson added that the office is in the process of hiring another dean of students, but that having only one dean does mean it takes longer to meet with students.
Collins-Eaglin attributed student reports and complaints to general associations students make regarding her role as dean of wellness.
“All kinds of things get conflated — attitudes, feelings,” Collins-Eaglin said. “This all gets attributed to me … I try as hard as I can to separate and unpack complaints, but sometimes the students are here, they’re angry, and that anger doesn’t go away.”
She clarified her role as dean of wellness.
“I’m not the therapist of record,” she said. “Really, I’m a conduit, a message-person.”
This article was last updated Dec. 6 at 10:52 p.m.
Julia Frankel PO ’22 is from Brooklyn, New York. She previously served as one of TSL’s news editors.