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Yale settles discrimination lawsuit targeting student mental health

 A woman walks by a Yale sign reflected in the rainwater on the Yale University campus, Aug. 22, 2021, in New Haven.
Ted Shaffrey
A woman walks by a Yale sign reflected in the rainwater on the Yale University campus, Aug. 22, 2021, in New Haven.

Yale University settled a federal lawsuit with student advocacy group Elis for Rachael on Friday.

Last year, the group and two students sued Yale for allegedly pressuring students with mental health challenges to withdraw from the university. They claimed the school was discriminating against these students, and made re-enrollment deliberately difficult.

"The parties have reached a settlement agreement to resolve a lawsuit filed last November in federal district court related to policies and practices impacting students with mental health disabilities,” the university said in a joint statement with the advocacy group.

“Retaining access to campus while you’re on leave, retaining access to Yale employment, while you’re on leave — and that includes remote employment and continuity of healthcare — that’s critical for low-income students,” said Alicia Floyd, co-founder of Elis for Rachael.

Elis for Rachael was founded after student Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum died by suicide in 2021 after writing about her fears of being forced to withdraw.

“So, you don’t feel like you’re just cast out by the university when you have to leave because you’ve had a mental health struggle,” Floyd added. “You feel like you’re still a part of the community and that’s really essential because isolation just leads to despair.”

Part of the agreement was for Yale to modify its policies regarding student medical leave in order to improve the reinstatement process for returning students. The university will additionally allow full-time students to transition to part-time status if they have urgent medical needs or emergencies.

“One thing students have really emphasized is how confusing the process is and how nobody seems to know how to guide them through the maze of policies and offices involved in taking time off,” Floyd said.

“Yale has now actually designated, as part of the settlement, a time-away resource to be the point-person.” she added. “And we hope this person is going to be a proactive, one-stop-shop for a student who is, for example, coming out of the hospital, needs guidance rather than getting bounced around through office after office.”

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.