I Must Not Tell Lies
Some people justify the damage they cause with the results they produce. Ends justifies means, it’s called. God save your soul if you’re part of their plan. They’ll tell you that suffering is a part of life, so suck it up and be grateful that it wasn’t worse.
That is how U.S. colleges justify ignoring Title IX to screw over students who are raped on their campuses.
That is how Carnegie Mellon justified denying me any accommodations to cope with the PTSD that they caused me from doing exactly that. That is how they justified continually worsening it over the past four years to the point that I have now been declared disabled and require a service dog just to leave my house.
Back when this first came out in 2012, all of my professors, my academic advisors, and various staff were well aware that the PTSD had crippled my ability to function in CMU classes. The problem was that the administration didn’t care to help as they were required to do. Had they done so, they’d have had to admit how grievously they’d damaged me.
The concessions they offered were paltry, the usual extended testing time and other such things that most students requesting accommodations receive. This was enough to appear as if they were committed to doing their jobs while actually doing squat to fix what they’d done. They said multiple times that they would help in whatever capacity necessary if only I asked. But my most crucial accommodation request was denied: I needed a service dog. Can’t have that in the news: “Title IX Mishandling Causes Disabling PTSD: Student requires service dog.”
Apparently, I was disabled enough to receive the usual accommodations. But when I needed other ones? Suddenly, I’m not disabled. Need a class taped? Sure, that’s a disability accommodation, you have paperwork citing your disability. Want to bring your service dog so you can attend class instead, like a normal goddamn student does? No, fuck you, you’re not disabled.
Initially, I didn’t need a dog to help me outside of classes. I wasn’t damaged enough to need that until recently. Because of that, CMU claimed that I didn’t qualify to have my dog and that they were denying that accommodation because there was no need for it. Only total disability would allow me to have it under their rules. They wouldn’t give me an exception for my situation, which was that I was fine outside of CMU but crippled to the point of incapacity on the campus. They conveniently ignored that that’s how PTSD works. Pretty obvious need and exception, you’d think, especially when it comes at the recommendation of my therapist.
Their argument amounted to this: if a wheelchair user doesn’t need their chair all the time, therefore they don’t need the chair and shouldn’t get accommodations. That’s plain idiocy, especially in the face of my therapist verifying otherwise.
CMU is known for being flexible. But they refused. Their refusal worsened my condition.
You’d think I would be granted an alternative format to complete the class requirements, such as projects or taking the class with a tutor and completing the work over a longer time span. Such things have been done for far less dire circumstances. I raised both of those ideas and was denied on both, multiple times. I did get a tutor, but the work done there would not be counted towards the class despite it being directly from the classes I’d withdrawn from. I could have spread the stress over a year instead of one semester, like doing multiple sets of lower-weight lifting instead of trying to lift a 300-lb bar in one go. But they shot down everything I came up with. They didn’t offer any of their own alternatives despite my begging. I’d have to suffer the class raw, or not graduate.
I tried the class one last time in Spring 2014. I still wasn’t allowed to take my dog with me; that’s at least three times I’d been denied my therapist-documented need for that. The extent of the damage exacerbated by the lack of my dog ground me to a halt just two weeks in. I then tried having the class taped to “attend” that way—I could have my dog if I watched from home. But my PTSD had degraded to a point where it wouldn’t tolerate even that. Having learned the material with a tutor during the year before helped, but it wasn’t enough to counteract the damage already done plus the constant stress of still having to tolerate CMU.
I told them I that I couldn’t do this anymore. I quit. Completing this one class to graduate was not possible, and was not worth risking the permanent damage I’d have to suffer in order to do it.
Lo and behold, that’s when everything I had asked for years ago suddenly became possible. Different format? Different way to fulfill the requirement? Completely out of the box ways to graduate without needing to suffer that class at all? Sure, sure. But I might have to take other classes to cover the requirements, and I still couldn’t have my dog for those classes—even after they had proof of the damage that causes.
Gee, those options would have been useful back when all this first happened. Back when I could still function, when the damage from being denied those things hadn’t yet spread into affecting me outside CMU. I didn’t even need a dog back then. It’s comforting to know that CMU would rather cause more, debilitating, and permanent damage than cop to fucking up once. Great leadership skills there.
The only viable option they’d come up with was a retroactive self-defined major. The retroactive bit was bending the rules; usually these custom majors are planned out in advance, not pieced together after the fact. That’s the flexibility they should have had about my dog. They still don’t give me a guarantee that this proposal would work. It was “this has to be approved”; not the usual caveat of “you have to do it right”. That did wonders for my anxiety, worsening my condition over the summer.
I finally got to have my dog, though. Things got so bad that I qualified as disabled under the ADA, graduating my dog to a public-access service dog. She came with me to all of the meetings for writing up the proposal. I got a transcriptor for one of those meetings, too, because part of the proposal involved talking about past classes which raised some obvious issues.
I graduated in August 2014 with a self-defined major.
Round of applause for CMU. They figured out how to disable people without being held accountable for it. Maybe I’ll show up in some future research paper. Maybe colleges will gather us up into a multivariate study about the effects that a threatening environment has on academic growth—I’m not the only student who’s suffered for the sake of a college’s narcissism.
- I can’t tolerate any kind of class environment, so I can’t ever go to graduate school, law school, any advanced schooling. So much for the American Dream.
- I am disabled. For me, that doesn’t mean I’m absolutely unable to work—it means that I can’t tolerate the inordinate stress, hostility, and lack of “perks” that people in low-wage, entry-level work have to put up with. It means I can’t do retail, that I can’t do secretarial stuff, that I can’t do fast food. Everyone knows that those kinds of things are worlds away from salaried positions, from managerial positions and upper-level stuff. Different kinds of stress, much different environment, completely different supervision. I need to be able to take my dog with me, feed her every four hours, take her potty every four hours. I can’t hide my need for these things, so I get to deal with disability discrimination on top of my limited pool of options. The accommodations and requirements I need in order to work aren’t given to the kind of person that can apply and be hired right off the street. Only upper-level positions get that, but I don’t have the experience necessary for that. So, effectively, I can’t work.
- I require a service dog to function in public. Dogs are expensive, even little ones. And service dog basically needs to be outfitted like a toddler to function well in public. You need to give it booties, coats, socks so that it doesn’t overheat on hot days, doesn’t spread mud inside on rainy days, and doesn’t freeze on cold days. You have to take a water bowl for it, take its food with you, take poop bags, chew toys. That stuff adds up, especially when you don’t have a car.
- I’ve lost my health insurance. Society deems me unworthy of having access to healthcare because I can’t work, because of what CMU did to me. State medicaid has me for now, but my therapist isn’t in their network. My other doctors aren’t guaranteed to stay available. No more treatment! Who wants to bet how long it’ll take me to degrade into oblivion?
- I can’t hold my baby niece. Babies wiggle and flail. I can’t tolerate that kind of touching. I can’t tell her not to whack certain body parts. She’s a couple months old now, but I’ve never held her. Cross off ever having kids.
- My original graduation was supposed to be in December 2011 with two degrees. After four years of damage, I might as well have burned seven years of tuition money for all it’s worth now. Plus the medical bills, the housing costs, my dog’s bills, lost future income, the ongoing damage imposed by debilitating PTSD…
- Of course, people are creatures of habit, and refuse to consider that “such a good college” could be that malicious. Support from the people you’d expect it? Haha. Hahahahaha. “There’s nothing wrong with you, stop telling lies and making up excuses.” One of the demographics with the highest rates of abuse is women with disabilities. Thanks, CMU, for your contribution to the maintenance of our wonderful society.
Currently, my support network hovers right around Harry Potter with the Dursleys. I would appreciate shares and notes in support.
Shares and publicity will also help to put pressure on CMU to redress their actions towards me, and in wider support of stating that this behavior will not be tolerated from any university—no matter how highly regarded. I’m not the only one CMU has done this to, and CMU is not the only college destroying its students. Let’s fix this and prevent it from happening to anyone else.
If you have advice for this situation, various ways to contact me are on the About tab along with other accounts. Comments on this post will be closed as usual.
*Clarification: My degree of difficulty in the classes qualified me for having a dog come with me to class. Because I was otherwise not disabled outside of class, I could not call myself disabled and thus couldn’t call the dog a service dog even though that’s exactly what it was for all intents and purposes. Those terms are medically restricted and I did not meet those terms until 2014. However, given the law on Title IX and education law accommodations, I should have been given an exception to have it, especially when my therapist said I needed it. It is no different than a student saying they need more time on tests: a medical person verifies it, the school must give it. That’s what should have happened here. I needed a school-specific accommodation. I had the paperwork. They denied it.
2015/03/21: I need a word replacer extension/app to manage my PTSD. Let me know if you can help.
2015/04/07: OCR is refusing to investigate.