At the University of Utah, we need to focus our attention on the people the pandemic has hit hardest – the students who belong to marginalized groups. LGBTQ+ students are among these groups, who are already facing disproportionately high levels of mental illness.
As mental health in queer and trans students collapses, we need to challenge our ways of seeing and approaching accessibility in academia. All students on the U campus deserve equal access to education. For this reason, we need to consider how the process of obtaining disability accommodations places LGBTQ+ students in potentially dangerous situations.
Understanding Mental Health in the LGBTQ+ Community
Preserving your well-being as a student during the pandemic comes with its own set of obstacles. When you consider the many stressors the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community, the issue of mental health morphs into something even more concerning.
the Americans with Disabilities Act sometimes protects people with mental illnesses, and U Center for Disability and Access also works this way. However, the to treat is inaccessible. The CDA asks you to make several appointments, fill out numerous documents, attend meetings and, most disturbingly, requires supporting documents. People who are not disabled find this process quite exhausting, but for students with disabilities it becomes an uphill battle. When you need accommodations because of obstacles in your path, you should not expect to overcome others.
I personally tried to go through the arduous process of the system. In the meeting itself, you are expected to describe deeply traumatic and triggering moments as you listen to the counselor clinically type notes about your situation. I sat there wondering if my traumas were enough to get the resources I so desperately needed.
The identity of queer and trans students often cannot be separated from their traumas and mental illnesses. If they have to explain themselves, they have to give the full picture. This expectation of identity disclosure seems extremely intrusive, especially when the people deciding whether you receive your request potentially hold transphobic or homophobic views. After all this mental and emotional gymnastics, there is still no guarantee that CDA will grant your request.
The problem of the required documentation
CDA also requires documentation from a medical provider, which also seems intrusive. Many students only have health insurance through their Parents or tutors. This can put them in difficult situations where they risk being unmasked. Therefore, these students cannot easily provide this documentation, much less ensure that it is as recent as six months. Asking parents for insurance, therapy, or medication information to build a case with CDA can compromise a student’s safety, especially if their family holds transphobic or homophobic beliefs.
This requirement assumes that the student’s family has insurance in the first place, and if so, that the student has access to it. Considering that 14% of Utahns between the ages of 19 and 26 were uninsured in 2019, these odds are less than ideal. Young adults in the LGBTQ+ community are twice as likely like their peers to be homeless, further blocking access to these resources.
The worrying risk that the provider themselves may be homophobic or transphobic also deters people from seeking help. Mental Health America says, “Fear of discrimination may lead some people to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity from providers or to avoid seeking care altogether. This is not an uncommon occurrence, given that more than half of respondents to the MHA survey “experienced instances of providers refusing care, using harsh language, or blaming sexual orientation or gender.” patient’s gender identity as the cause of a disease.
Faced with these realities, many LGBTQ+ students must choose between their education and their safety. Obtaining documents can be nearly impossible and may result in the U refusing accommodation requests.
These regulations maintain the exclusivity of academia
Given these realities, we can assume that only students with the most resources can access housing at U. By having students jump through hoops, the U actively widens the gap between its students. Whenever an LGBTQ+ student attempts to secure accommodation, they must make their identity digestible enough to be validated by others. Their trauma is turned into checklists and they find themselves hoping that enough boxes are ticked. No one should have to present the most traumatized and vulnerable versions of themselves to receive respect, patience and resources.
The U needs to close this gap between its students by changing its understanding of disability. The change includes promoting a healthier environment on campus that allows flexibility for faculty. The teachers themselves need more training to understand the importance of creating a classroom adapted to the needs of each student. Students deserve effort and understanding. We must collectively begin to understand accommodations not as exceptions obtained through proof of disability, but as a stepping stone to an equitable campus.
We as a student body are done jumping through hoops. Disability is not a personal issue, but a systemic lack of consideration for individual needs. Only U changes at the institutional level can begin to do justice properly.