“When I went to the D-Center I brought one of my friends, and we both left on the verge of tears because it was a very powerful experience to finally see your experience in a cultural identity and in a cultural space. I needed that when I was fifteen, and I’m twenty-four now. It was amazing to finally get it.”
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re involved in on campus.
“My experience at UW is heavily contextualized by my past experience in education, so what I’m involved in at UW goes back to when I was in high school. I was going into high school in Snoqualmie, Washington; I was an honors student, and about halfway through my freshman year I started having mental health issues. Shortly thereafter I was diagnosed with a number of mental illnesses and failed all of my classes…My parents were able to establish what is called a 504 plan, which is accommodations for students with disabilities, but my school didn’t follow that; it’s not something that is enforced often. So like fifty percent of students with mental health illnesses, I dropped out… I started trying to go to community colleges, and it finally worked a little bit better at Shoreline Community College, where I did a lot of disability advocacy…so that translates to where I’m at now…I volunteer with the Washington Student Association on a task force working with disability providers in the state…I also recently applied for the ASUW Disability Commission Director position, and I’m looking to get more involved in disability justice on campus.”
What do you see as the biggest issues regarding mental health at UW?
“The big issue that everyone seems to talk about is stigma. It’s culturally acceptable to be ableist, or to say “you’re being crazy” without realizing what that means to an entire group of people who have been institutionalized and excluded from higher education…We talk about stigma but we talk about in terms of getting mental health care. We think, ‘You have a disability so let’s get you health care so you can be like us able-bodied people!’ not, “Let’s make sure that you can actually come to school and be disabled and get an education even with a disability.’…The thing that really gets me is classes that don’t have flexibility on deadlines or attendance, and then not knowing how to get those accommodations.”
How was your transition to UW?
“As a transfer student you get your admissions super late, and on top of that, I didn’t know where to find that community to support me. I came here and I felt like I didn’t see any narratives about this, I don’t see people talking about this; I don’t know if they care. Where am I going and how do I deal with this? So it compounded and made my mental health issues worse. So transferring here was pretty brutal, which is one of the reasons I wanted to talk about this because I know there’s no way I’m the only student that felt this.”
What is the most valuable experience you’ve had at UW?
“Going to the D-Center (Disabled and D/deaf cultural center) for the first time. I cried. I left and I cried…UW is one of two schools in the entire country that has a disability cultural center. When I went to the D-Center I brought one of my friends, and we both left on the verge of tears because it was a very powerful experience to finally see your experience in a cultural identity and in a cultural space. I needed that when I was fifteen, and I’m twenty-four now. It was amazing to finally get it.”
What does a day in the life look like for you?
“I commute, so it’s about a two hour commute for me both ways. That has been a challenge; when I’m really depressed, the less barriers there are for me getting to school, or to work, the easier. So lately, I’ve spent a lot of time at home depressed, trying to figure out how I can get past these insurmountable barriers. A day in the life is not very productive or pretty, but it’s not that I’m not capable of more; I was student body president at Shoreline and I had quarter where I did really well…we think of being physically present as a mandatory requirement, we don’t see it as a privilege.”
What advice would you give to incoming freshmen and transfer students?
“I’d say, no matter what institution you find yourself at, there will be an aspect of yourself or your difference that can cause a feeling of isolation or inadequacy. So I think that it’s important to see that that difference can make you stronger and more powerful. When you come to a big school like UW, it’s very easy to not have love for yourself and not think that your difference is valuable. The advice I’d give people is, not because this is easy, but to say that this doesn’t diminish your value as a person, and to surround yourself with people who understand that and value you with all of your difference and all of your challenges.”