After three years of loving Dartmouth, an injury causes me to lose faith in its teachers and support systems.
Although the administration recently promised to shift its focus to student health, there are still critical gaps in campus support systems. Despite my love for this school, the illusion of care propagated by some teachers and disability services is one aspect of Dartmouth that disappoints me.
In early January, alongside a fifth of campus, I caught COVID-19. After a week of quarantining in my room and missing our first varsity race, I hit the ski slope, where I crashed and was sent into a 10-month knee recovery process. Three days after this accident, I was in class when I was hit by a car, adding a concussion and broken ribs.
I considered withdrawing from classes altogether and returning home across the country. But after hearing so much about the provost’s renewed commitment to student health in the winter, I was confident that I could stay afloat with a strong support system and faculty by my side.
However, a few weeks later, I seriously regretted my decision to stay on campus and take classes. Rather than working with me, Student Accessibility Services, the Department of Safety and Security, and especially my teachers made my return to school much more stressful and complicated than I had anticipated. I discovered that due to my temporary injuries, I was forced to choose between focusing on my mental and physical health and succeeding academically – a trade-off that I don’t think students should have to make.
After several visits to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, I met with my professors to explain my prognosis. Not only would I miss classes for the surgery, but I would also be taking fentanyl and oxycontin for the pain, while managing my concussion for the rest of the term. Despite the physical signs of my injuries and my doctor’s notes, a professor was suspicious that my surgery date was midterm and suggested that I wasn’t telling the whole truth. Another said that while he understood my situation, he still expected me to do exactly the same as my peers, completing homework and exams with no flexibility.
Additionally, two professors said that if I missed a class – whether it was due to surgery, concussion, or pain level – they would cancel my grade for lack of attendance. For me, this was the most twisted part of my situation, as these same teachers were offering virtual attendance options anyway for those who had to miss classes due to COVID-19. When I was already in excruciating pain, experiencing the mind-altering effects of medication and concussions, and struggling to maintain my relationships and daily routine, this harshness felt punitive.
As recommended by my undergraduate dean, I explained my frustrations to SAS and Safety and Security, both of whom expressed their sympathy and warm wishes. However, because my disability was only temporary, neither office could interfere with my teacher’s conduct or offer anything other than wellness advice through Dick’s House. According to the school’s disability services managers, my arrangement had to be handled entirely by the same teachers who either didn’t believe I was injured or really didn’t care – end of story.
I am a student who really enjoys learning and building relationships with teachers. I’m also a student who was once a huge defender of Dartmouth unless the administration is mindful and focused on mental health. In fact, I convinced my little brother to apply and spoke to many high schools about the excellent education in Dartmouth. However, I’m beginning to have doubts about my unconditional love for this school, as I find myself once again disappointed in its support network – the most critical part of campus life. After the student suicides and the hard lessons learned from COVID, shouldn’t the health of our students still be a priority?
I recognize that my temporary injury is nothing compared to many others, and it is important that SAS prioritizes more permanent and long-lasting accessibility issues. That said, if professors continue to be so unaccommodating, there is a need for more standard practice and SAS protection when it comes to temporary disabilities. The College must recognize that, despite their general efforts to improve student health, individual professors have the most say in the daily lives of students. If there is no standard of care among faculty and the SAS does not cover gaps in that care, student health is not a top priority.