FIU Discriminates against student

I am a student at FIU with two semesters left. My dream is to go to DC for graduate school. I am one of those students that likes to visit professors.

 

I have been recently diagnosed as bipolar. I first sought help through Counseling and Psychological Services on campus, but I was rejected. I was too much of a liability, according to them.

 

I spent most of 2013 in a depressive state. I got some incompletes that spring semester. Even though professors have told me I have the potential of going to DC, an advisor said it would be best to just get my bachelor’s degree over with. Read between the lines: he told me I’m not capable of handling graduate school because I’m diagnosed as bipolar.

 

I feel now, months later, that I’ve been discriminated against. I sought help, I sought guidance and I was essentially told that I’m too sick to reach my goals, that I need to lower my expectations and get out of FIU.

 

Aside from being pushed aside by our university’s counseling services and put down by my advisor, I started getting emails practically every week telling me that I owed over $6,000 from spring semester, even though I had the incompletes, and that if I didn’t pay back in full, my account would be sent to collections. Even though I worked out a payment plan, the emails kept on coming. I will not be able to return to school, get access to my transcripts or transfer schools until it is fully paid off.

 

I ended up sending an email to my professors, apologizing, telling them that I was going to fail and that I hope to take their courses again in the future. The only way I can pay back is through full-time work.

 

At my job, it is known that I’m bipolar. I work at a fast-paced office in Downtown Miami. They have been very supportive and accommodating. I work late to meet deadlines and I have come in on weekends voluntarily because I care about my employer’s success. It’s a little perk from getting hypomania.

 

They also let me take sick days to restart my brain. They know why. Just like my professors, my mentors have known why. Being brutally honest has been working well for me, save for the FIU situation.

 

Mental illness should not be a death sentence. It shouldn’t automatically force a person to lower their expectations. Stop insinuating that I’m just a button-pusher, FIU.

When I was rejected by counseling services, that was incredibly traumatic for me. It was like they were putting the nails in my coffin. I cried from the moment I left until I got to the car.

 

An institution of higher education should not shun students with mental illness. How is society going to move forward if this institution discriminates and dismisses students like me?

 

I am outright accusing FIU for discriminating against students with mental illness. There are many of us out there. It is pretty damn difficult to admit that we need help to begin with, and often college services are the best we can get.

 

You’ve raised the tuition to pay for our less-than-stellar sports programs. How about you invest more on the student body’s health, safety, and overall well-being?

 

Make your students’ success and personal growth your priority – for everyone. You are perpetuating all of the negative stereotypes about mental illness. How is a student like me supposed to go to school confidently when you treat us as inferior? It internalizes the stigma and we hide in shame.

Shame on you.

5 Comments on "FIU Discriminates against student"

  1. Like the recent Oscar winning song says, Let it go… Don’t start your bright future by using mental illness as a crutch or excuse. Millions go through their entire lives as bipolar and worse and lead fully functional happy lives… Get professional help at one of the first rate Psychiatric centers in South Florida and meds if you need them. But most of all get over it, move on and try harder to not be a victim to someone’s diagnosis… A little group therapy may help too…..

    • “Get over it”? “Let it go”?

      Wow, way to sound like a condescending jerk. It’s not that easy.

  2. I saw this editorial and it troubled me a great deal, and I felt I should respond. I am an employee of FIU, and I too have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Through various treatments my condition is almost completely under control now, and I doubt anyone who knows me would guess that I was ill.

    I was particularly concerned by the fact that this student went to the Counseling and Psychological Services center and was told that he/she could not be seen because they were seen as “a liability.” If a student went to FIU Health with a serious medical issue, would they be turned away for the same reason? At any rate, what message does that send to someone with mental illness? Did the center even try to find an alternate avenue for treatment for the student?

    My previous employer knew about my bipolar condition. HR there was very understanding of my issues, and when I needed to go on medical leave after a particularly bad time, they were willing to work with me because they knew I would come back as a better, healthier employee. Recently I had some issues at work and a family member suggested that I contact the employee assistance program. Truthfully after reading this editorial I am not certain that I want to do that. I think it is better to take my chances on finding help away from FIU.

    Finally, if the student who wrote this editorial ever gets a chance to read this comment, I want him or her to know these things: You’re not alone. You _can_ still be a success in life. Your condition can be kept largely under control through medication and therapy–it might take time to find the right treatment but it is worth it. Don’t avoid seeking help because you (and your employer!) sometimes enjoy your manic phases–I found that I worked less manically, but much more effectively, once I started treatment. And lastly, don’t give up on your dreams of doing grad school in DC. If I had listened to every advisor who told me I couldn’t do the academic things I wanted to, I would have never left my home town and I’d probably be working on a farm somewhere. Keep working at it. You can do it.

  3. I agree with you that FIU demonstrates an outright contempt for students and employees in need of counseling. I’m also an FIU employee, and I sought help from our on campus counseling services some time ago. Not only was the receptionist EXTREMELY rude, but when I met with the counselor, she said at the beginning that she was going to listen so she knew who to pass me off to, rather than offer me anything in the way of counseling. How the heck was I supposed to open up to her about that?

    I stated this in a feedback form, and then MONTHS later, she writes back to me without apologizing for her conduct or the conduct of her staff, or addressing any of the issues I raise – just inviting me to waste more time.

    FIU’s on-campus counseling services are nothing less than deplorable, and the university should be ashamed of itself for failing in this regard. I agree 100% with the author of this piece – shame on FIU.

  4. Ashley Salamanca | April 7, 2014 at 8:26 PM | Reply

    Hello! I wrote the article and I’m writing back to reply to some comments.

    First off, a correction needs to be made: “I was too much of a liability, according to them.”

    This was not according to them. This was my own observation. After being seen, after talking extensively about everything I was going through, crying, expressing my vulnerability, I was told that they could not see me. They gave me a sheet of paper, which asked for my signature and whether or not I agreed with their assessment, and of course, I signed “no”. Going through that process led me to assume that I was too much of a liability for them. For the record, there is more to this story, but it does not deviate from what I expected, how they responded, and how I reacted.

    Oh, as for helping me find alternatives? A sheet of paper with some phone numbers on it.

    It takes a lot of energy to admit you need help. I realized that I could not keep lying to myself and denying it to the world. I was ashamed. I was scared. Then to walk into that clinic, say “I need help”, and get turned away? What else was I supposed to think?

    At that point, which was really a crisis point, I expected to feel validated, and most of all, I expected them to intervene immediately. All of that did not happen. I did cry all the way to my car. I also had a panic attack that lasted much longer than it usually does for me (Google it if you’re curious).

    Thinking back on this period, I do not understand how they could have turned a person in that state away and let them leave the office with just a sheet of paper? That was a major blow.

    Also, thank you to those that posted encouraging comments. These are the types of responses that led me to write an article to begin with. I wrote this because I AM better, and now that I have thought back on it, I’m simply stupefied as to how they concluded that their response was reasonable.

    I don’t want this to be a hushed conversation anymore. I am not ashamed, and I want to help end stigma. No one should be turned away. I have so many horror stories, and I have known of many people that absolutely refuse help. I know. I was one of them.

    There is so much to talk about. And this is just bipolar. Imagine all of the other illnesses and differences between us. Your brain is an organ, just like your skin, your heart and lungs are. Just because an illness is occurring in a brain does not make it imaginary.

    In case you’re curious, I am doing better. Much better. Just as a synopsis, I offer the following:
    – I did start seeing someone at a different facility.
    – Life was rough for a while.
    – I had a short inpatient stay. I checked myself in voluntarily.
    – I started to get better. Learn new habits, stop old ones. Take your medicine. I had to re-learn how to live life.
    – My employer is amazing. They are supportive, encouraging, but also really demanding. Even though I feel FIU has done me wrong, I immensely appreciate this opportunity. They have been an amazing motivator to stay healthy.
    – I am engaged now! I survived that crap with another human being that put up with me and still loved me. I have the most supportive network of friends and family, and it only got better after I stopped shutting up.
    – For those that think that you can just “let it go”, it really, really does not work that way. I appreciate the idea that simple tasks like taking a walk, doing a yoga session, or a relaxing bath is all I need. I hope that you can let this sink in a little bit, and realize that it is a ridiculous assumption to make that my lack of happiness is due to not putting lavender oil in my bath.
    – It is not my crutch. Soapbox, maybe. It is not something I seek sympathy for, but understanding. I want people to know about mental health. How its stigma is so strong, it makes people uncomfortable talking about it. You could study psychology, but don’t talk about seeing a therapist weekly. I’m so frank with what happened/happens. If you want to know about my suffering, that’s a different story. Don’t assume that because I’m talking about mental health that I must be depressed.

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