Queen’s needs to approach accommodations with empathy

Current policy for academic accommodations doesn’t respect student privacy

Alexa believes the University shouldn’t require students to disclose trauma to receive academic consideration.
Journal File Photo

This article discusses mental illness and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.

Queen’s policy for academic consideration should reflect an empathetic approach to dealing with students requesting accommodations.

The university’s current accommodations policy requires students to submit documentation and await review by the Academic Consideration team. According to the Academic Consideration team’s website, requests for accommodation are granted through documentation provided by the student that verifies their need for accommodation.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciencedefines trauma as involving bereavement, serious injury, the required treatment of a significant other or family member, and other traumatic events.

When applying for accommodations, students are subject to disclosing instances of sexual violence, mental illness, or extenuating circumstances from previous traumas that are then reviewed by an administrator.

Students are also often required to go to professors to advocate for academic accommodations while waiting for a decision on their accommodation request.

Essentially, to be accommodated, students dealing with ongoing mental illness or with trauma are forced to disclose private and confidential information to multiple staff and faculty members.

Many students struggle to explain how they’re affected by their experiences and don’t wish to disclose private information to their professors or university administrators. It’s an issue of student equity and inclusivity, as all students require different levels of support to succeed academically.

Disclosing personal information can feel like a breach of privacy, especially if students are required to submit documentation like a death certificate in the case of bereavement.

In the event where students do find the courage to assert their needs, they may also be met with insensitivity and a lack of understanding.

Students were denied accommodations by faculty, and the administration can feel their trauma was misunderstood by the review panel. These students may be discouraged from seeking out other support from the University.

In the case of trauma and mental illness, no one understands the impact of these experiences more than the individuals affected. It’s unfair and unjust to deny a person accommodation due to a lack of understanding of their circumstances.

Emphasis on understanding the impact of mental illness needs to be instated throughout all levels of administration and faculty, especially as more and more students are affected by these experiences throughout COVID-19.

As a university, we’ve all experienced a deep trauma. The pandemic has had vastly different impacts on all of us, and we’re all deserving of empathy.

A student shouldn’t be required to disclose private information in order to receive an accommodation. Disclosures of trauma deserve to be respected and honoured, not demanded.

Accommodations for students also don’t end at assignments. In the case of missed exams due to trauma, the University should automatically defer an exam or provide an alternate method of evaluation.

It’s not equitable to expect students enduring trauma to perform under strict exam conditions.

During my first semester at Queen’s, I felt grateful to have empathetic professors—but I felt that administrators didn’t understand what I was going through and how it affected almost every aspect of my life.

As a first-year student, I didn’t know how to explain what I was experiencing mentally and emotionally. It felt as if I couldn’t engage in a dialogue about what it means to be a survivor of serious trauma.

I had ongoing anxiety over how I would be perceived by faculty that prevented my ability to participate in class. I stayed silent for a long period of time.

I found myself concealing my challenges under my desire to be a leader and help others overcome hardship. Often, the effects of my trauma prevented me from fully engaging in my classes.

There’s no supporting documentation for a mental illness that affects trauma survivors daily.

Many solutions exist that the University could adopt at both the faculty and administrative level to be more accommodating.

Foremost, the University should abolish the requirement for students to submit documentation in the case of a traumatic event before the consideration team outlines the terms and conditions of their request for academic accommodation.

Additionally, the Academic Consideration team should ask for student consent in the request of documentation. This would give students the choice to disclose their personal and confidential information to strangers—or not.

The University should also host professional development meetings for its faculties to better inform and change the conversation surrounding trauma.

I felt very alone before I formed trusting relationships with my professors. It was daunting to explain my experience because I wanted to do the same things my peers could. I was unsure if the university cared about my setbacks and whether it understood I was fully capable of succeeding despite my personal circumstances.

It’s Queen’s responsibility to ensure the safety of their studentsincluding at the mental and emotional level.

The focus of academic consideration should be to understand that we’re all human, we all face adversity, and we can’t control everything that happens to us.

Alexa Bartels is a first-year student in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

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