(CN) –Like many American universities, Stanford is struggling to support its growing student population dealing with issues like depression, substance abuse and mental health disabilities.
Students say the prestigious university, which charges undergraduates approximately $50,000 in tuition per year, is failing woefully. Rather than supporting disabled students with its world-class medical facilities and resources, students claim Stanford is pushing them out the door.
In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday, a class of disabled students, including one that considered suicide, accused Stanford of forcing them off campus and treating them like a “legal liability.”
“Stanford has a practice of pressuring students, immediately after reports of crisis behavior, into taking leaves of absence; requiring immediate withdrawal from all classes, programs and housing without an individualized evaluation,” the class action complaint states.
The 34-page complaint filed in federal court in San Jose includes three stories from students using pseudonyms that describe Stanford’s “blanket practice” of shunning at-risk students.
Shortly after telling a university psychiatrist that he had suicidal thoughts, plaintiff Jacob Z. agreed to enter the university hospital for mental health treatment. While still in treatment, Jacob claims his residence adviser visited and accused Jacob of “imposing a burden” on other students and then threatened to ban him from the dorms.
The 20-year-old student carrying a 4.0 grade point average said he was kicked off campus housing just one week later, with the university citing his “inability to care for his personal safety.” The eviction notice came with a $450 administrative fee and Jacob said he was told he can’t return to the San Francisco Bay Area campus without additional treatment and a formal written apology.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys at Disability Rights Advocates in nearby Berkeley said the class action lawsuit is the first of its kind. The students want to set a precedent and are not asking for monetary damages.
“Stanford is a particularly egregious example, but it is unfortunately not the only one we have heard about,” said Disability Rights Advocates attorney Maia Goodell in a statement.
The lawsuit claims Stanford violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act by stigmatizing disabled students and forcing them off campus. It names the university and its board of trustees as defendants.
Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda said in an email the university is reviewing the complaint.
“The university cares deeply about the health and well-being of our students and has focused on making robust programs, facilities, and services available to them,” Miranda said.
The lawsuit comes as a record number of U.S. college students are reporting mental health problems.
According to the National Council on Disability, 35 percent of students reported having at least one mental health disorder while 20 percent said they have considered suicide at some point during their college career.
Monica Porter of Disability Rights Advocates said Stanford and other schools should be more accommodating of students’ disabilities and not be shoving them out the door.
“The law requires that exclusion be a last resort,” Porter said in a statement.
Stanford launched a task force this year that focuses on mental health, equity and inclusion, calling it “Our Most Important Work.” Susie Brubaker-Cole, Stanford’s vice provost for student affairs, recently acknowledged that mental health is a major challenge for students.
“Undergraduate and graduate students struggle with mental health and well-being,” Brubaker-Cole told Stanford News. “That’s because of the pressures of excelling as a student, but also because of the volatile, unstable and changing world we live in. Many also do not feel integrated in our community.”