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Student accuses Carleton University of discrimination against mental health

By Rebecca Riley

On Feb. 5 student Falum Ann Gibson accused Carleton University of discrimination against her mental illness in a Facebook post that has received over 2.9K likes as of publication.

Last November Gibson was hospitalized for three weeks for mental health reasons. During this time she received a letter from Suzanne Blanchard, Carleton’s Vice-President (Students and Enrolment) and University Registrar, stating that she would need medical documentation in order for her to return to school.

Credit: Falum Ann Gibson

Credit: Falum Ann Gibson

“Once documentation was received, I was allowed to return back to campus with very strict rules in place. Ultimately, I had to agree not to try and kill myself on campus. It was very clear that they were only concerned about liability, and not that a student was deeply struggling,” Gibson wrote in her post.

Gibson did not consult a lawyer before signing the contract.

In early January Gibson called campus security because she was having suicidal thoughts, which was what her contract instructed her to do. It took 45-50 minutes for security to arrive, according to Gibson, and during this time she took pills with the intention to harm herself. On Jan. 10 Carleton told Gibson that she had two days to leave her dorm in residence, and that she could not continue her studies because they claimed she violated the contract.

This was problematic for Gibson because she uses a wheelchair and many housing options are not accessible. Gibson is currently living in a hospital. This situation has also caused OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) to place Gibson on academic probation, despite her 11.0 CGPA.

Gibson currently has a lawyer, who has asked the university to allow Gibson to return to her studies by Feb. 19. Gibson plans to pursue further legal action against the university.

However, Gibson’s experiences have impacted how she views her student experience. “I do not feel comfortable or welcome on campus, but [I] need to finish my education,” she shared with The Leveller.

Carleton has a reputation as being one of the leading accessible universities in Canada for people with disabilities, including mental health conditions. In 2009, Carleton created its Student Mental Health Framework, making the university the first post-secondary institution to have such a policy. The framework was updated in 2016.

However, in recent years students, including Gibson, have complained that Carleton does not follow its framework. “It saddens me that Carleton does not follow the framework it has set out. Students should be entitled to support in their worst moments. We should be encouraging people to speak out, not stay silent,” Gibson told The Leveller.

Gibson has received supportive messages in response to her post. Kaëla Hildebrand commented, “Carleton needs to be knocked off their high horse. I am one of those students [like you],  and I am tired of being silent.” Tammy C. Brockman also shared, “You did exactly as they asked and achieved amazing grades despite missing three weeks of school. That is a feat in itself. So sorry to hear that Carleton University has no morals.”

Carleton has not publicly commented on Gibson’s ongoing case.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 5 (Feb/Mar 2018).

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