A MESSAGE FOR OUR COMMUNITY
August 25, 2023
Dear Students, Alumni, Family, and Friends impacted by Yale’s mental health policies:
We are proud to announce that Elis for Rachael and two brave student plaintiffs have reached a settlement with Yale!
“Today is a watershed moment for anyone with a mental health disability, and for the entire Yale community. This historic settlement affirms that students with mental health needs truly belong.”
- Rishi Mirchandani ’19, co-founder of Elis for Rachael
First of all, THANK YOU! Thank you for being open with us about what you’ve been through. Thank you for sharing your stories, joining our groups, coming to speak-outs, and standing up for the changes needed to make Yale a more inclusive and accepting space. Thank you for donating to help current students in a rough patch.
Last fall, Yale faced a wave of front-page negative publicity about its treatment of students with mental health needs, leading with the investigative report “What if Yale Finds Out?” in the Washington Post. Shortly after, Elis for Rachael and two student plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the university alleging discrimination against students with mental health disabilities. The lawsuit sought meaningful policy reform from Yale rather than monetary compensation. Within two months, Yale announced a number of positive changes to its policies. These policy changes, as well as significant new advances, are codified in our settlement with Yale University, filed on August 25, 2023. If approved by the Court, this settlement will result in updated Yale policies that increase equity for students with mental health disabilities.
Here are some highlights of how this settlement will help students:
1. Simplified requirements to return from medical leave
The reinstatement process has been streamlined and clarified, lengths of leave will be individualized, and Yale will give greater consideration to the opinion of the student’s treating provider to help ensure students can return to campus when ready. Yale’s policies no longer require a minimum time away and an onerous reinstatement process that, for decades, discouraged students from taking medical leave when they badly needed it and imposed financial, psychological, and logistical barriers to those seeking to return. The new process prioritizes medical care and the student’s ability to return as an equal member of the campus community. For more information, see the Yale College Academic Regulations under "Medical Leave of Absence".
“It goes so much further than hollow word changes and minor adjustments they've made in the past. Particularly getting rid of ‘being constructively occupied’ and instead saying to focus on your health, which should have always been the goal of a medical leave instead of jumping through hoops. It truly made my day reading the changes to policy that would have made all the difference to me. I am hopeful this has massive positive ripples in the lives of current Yalies and those on medical leave. Thank you.”
- Anonymous Yale College student currently on medical leave, speaking about January 2023 policy changes
Taking medical leave no longer means complete exclusion from Yale. Students on medical leave retain considerably more access to campus spaces, resources, and communities. Students on medical leave can also keep campus employment, which is incredibly helpful for low-income students who need that job to afford the basics and help their families. Students on medical leave used to be barred from setting foot on campus without written permission each time; that’s no longer the case. Now, a student whose only “transgression” was having a mental health disability can visit campus as a guest, the same as anyone else.
3. Part-time as a reasonable accommodation
For the first time ever, Yale is offering part-time study as an accommodation for students with urgent medical needs. Students who are granted this accommodation at the start of the term receive a 50% reduction in tuition, making this new option more accessible to low-income students. Although Yale describes the circumstances for this accommodation as “rare,” this change still represents a consequential departure from the traditional all-or-nothing attitude towards participation in academic life at Yale. For more information, see the Yale College Academic Regulations under "Minimum Course Load."
“If part time study had been an option, I think Rachael would have used it, and she would have been less afraid of the prospect of medical leave.”
- Zack Dugue, Rachael’s partner and a co-founder of Elis for Rachael
4. Healthcare continuity
Students on medical leave will have an option to remain on Yale’s health insurance for one year. Students who receive financial aid may be able to access financial support as well. Yale’s previous medical leave policies left students who depended on the university’s healthcare with no option to continue coverage. Now, Yale insurance will support continuity of access to healthcare and ease students’ transition back to campus. For more information, see the Yale Health website under "Health Coverage Overview for Undergraduate Students on Medical Leave of Absence."
5. Tuition, room and board refund schedule
Under Yale’s new policy, there will be a gradual decrement in fee refunds as the semester goes on: Yale will provide a 100% refund within the first two weeks of the term, and refunds will decrement by 10% each week thereafter. Previously, Yale’s longstanding policy on fee refunds held that students could receive up to a 50% refund if they initiated medical leave prior to midterm, and 0% afterwards. This made midterm a stressful, all-or-nothing decision point for students considering medical leave. The new fee refund schedule allows students to feel more flexibility in the timing of taking medical leave. For more information, see the Yale College Undergraduate Regulations under "Medical Leave of Absence/Reduced Course Load."
6. Time Away Resource
Students on medical leave will, for the first time, have a dedicated staff member within the Yale College Dean’s Office to help them navigate and simplify what has traditionally been a confusing, exhausting, and isolating process. This person is not a leave of absence decision-maker; rather, they are available year-round to provide information to students who are considering or on a medical leave of absence. The key here is in implementation; students need a proactive advocate, and we sincerely hope Yale follows in the footsteps of other schools like Duke and Cornell to develop this resource to the fullest. For information, see the Yale College Academic Regulations under "Medical Leave of Absence."
“One of the most challenging parts of my medical leave was being completely in the dark about what the process even is and what options were available to me. Navigating a terrifying process alone, with no support, is not something that anyone should have to experience, let alone students going through some of the most difficult moments of their lives. With the new Time Away Resource, students will have greater access to the necessary guidance. I hope that Yale will recognize the true potential of the Time Away Resource and continue to expand it until the needs of every student can be met and nobody is left fending for themselves.”
- Alicia Abramson ’24, Student Plaintiff
How these new policies are implemented will be critical.
“It’s not just about making things look good on paper, but about doing right by the student in front of you.”
- Willow Sylvester ’22, former student activist, core member of Elis for Rachael
This case has reignited the national conversation around best practices for students with mental health disabilities. Elis for Rachael, together with all of you, have a voice in this conversation.
"We appreciate that Yale has finally chosen to modernize some of their mental health policies. We hope Yale will continue the momentum they have started to build with these significant updates to their mental health policies."
- Paul Mange Johansen ’88, co-founder of Elis for Rachael
“Yale is a formidable institution with the privilege and responsibility to teach students and other colleges what a world of disability equity looks like. This settlement reflects a hope-filled beginning to that process, not an end.”
- Alicia Floyd ’05, co-founder of Elis for Rachael
Mark your calendars for a special fundraising event on November 17th! Financial support for vulnerable students remains crucial. Every contribution counts, as it enables us to continue supporting students on leave, and fighting for the rights of all Yale students. We are hosting a Night of Celebration and Advocacy on November 17th at Center Church on the New Haven Green. Details and registration can be found on the Eventbrite page. This event is an evening filled with connection, inspiration, shared purpose, free food, and a performance by a special musical guest – you won’t be disappointed! Please join us as we celebrate our accomplishments and lay the foundation for the work ahead! If you cannot make it to our event, join us in spirit by donating to our student fund.
Let’s be clear: Our broader advocacy is far from over.
Going forward, we will advocate for solutions to the following student concerns:
Yale does not offer a PPO insurance option to enrolled students, which limits their access to healthcare outside the Yale Health system.
Low-income students remain particularly vulnerable during times of medical crisis, and emergency funds available through Yale are often restrictive. We continue to raise money for these students.
Housing insecurity can become an issue for low-income students forced to move off campus quickly following the decision to take a leave of absence.
Students have concerns around lack of medical privacy, particularly when hospitalized.
Students would like greater agency in their own care, including better boundaries between Yale Mental Health & Counseling and Yale New Haven Hospital.
We are here to elevate student voices. Together, we have accomplished so much. Thank you, as always, for your support.
Elis for Rachael
Elis for Rachael formed organically from a group of Yale community members (students, alumni, family, and friends) demanding change in the wake of first-year Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum’s tragic death by suicide in Spring 2021. Rachael had written about her fears of being forced to withdraw shortly before her death.
“When I hosted our first community gathering, I knew we were stronger together and could do more to help students. By empowering the voices of students, family members, and alumni with lived experience we’ve made changes that none of us individually could have accomplished. Your voice still matters, so let’s keep listening and empowering those most impacted.”
- Lily Colby ’10, co-founder of Elis for Rachael