Former East Carolina University students say ECU’s Disability Support Services didn’t support them when they needed the office. One student claims DSS forced them out of a class and another says DSS didn’t help them when they were trying to get excused for an important surgery.
Kayley Thorpe, a senior psychology major at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, attended ECU from 2013 to 2014. Thorpe said her experiences with DSS caused her to transfer schools.
Thorpe said she was living on campus and expecting to do all the activities a normal student does, but her first year did not end up going well.
Thorpe has Tourette's Syndrome and said she explained this to her professor before her chemistry class began, but the professor didn’t understand her involuntary symptoms.
Thorpe said she was “forced” out of her chemistry class and into an online section with her only other option being to drop the class. Thorpe said she needed a chemistry class because she was pre-med at the time.
“I dropped some classes due to my own symptomatic issues and then there were some classes that I was essentially forced out of by disability services administration,” Thorpe said.
According to Thorpe, if she would have been able to take the class in-person and with proper accommodations, she would have been able to succeed in the class.
Thorpe said her experience at UNC DSS is different than that with ECU DSS. Thorpe said at UNC she had difficulty with one professor in one of her classes, but there was a meeting with Thorpe and the professor to come up with a solution.
“They (ECU) are willing to go out of their way for me because my conditions are unusual, they’re kind of difficult to accommodate sometimes, but UNC was able to work with me and find some of out the box solutions for my very difficult issues with my condition and accessibility for me that ECU had never crossed their or my minds,” Thorpe said.
According to Thorpe, ECU does not have the necessary level of communication or sensitivity about her medical issues which impacted her college career.
Thorpe said she felt unwelcome and as though she was an inconvenience while at ECU. Thorpe said DSS told her she had to take online courses which weren’t offered for her psychology major.
“Essentially, ECU said they couldn't accommodate me and I just felt like I was treated like an inconvenience and not a scholar, not a human, it was very difficult,” Thorpe said.
Whitney Kimble, ECU DSS Disability Support Specialist, said DSS wants to prepare students for their next “venture” in life because they will still have to interact with people in their workplace.
According to Kimble, students with conditions such as Tourettes or Aspergers may choose to take one in-person class and the rest online to ease their way in, but it would be up to the student and taking all online classes would never be forced on them.
“One of our missions is inclusion because that is a civil right, so we would never try to push a student away and just say ‘just take all online classes,’” Kimble said.
ECU alumni Jess Stone said they used DSS for about two years. Stone said in their junior year they got sick and was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) part of the way into the semester.
Stone said the cardiologist told them they needed a pacemaker to be implanted, which meant they would be out of school for a week.
According to Stone, they had been receiving services from DSS prior to their diagnosis with POTS and when they asked how to could get an excused absence, they were told they would have to speak to their professors and “figure it out.”
“I could have gone to the Dean (of Students) and applied for absence but they just simply didn’t provide that information, but I think they had a very small range of things they could do there and if they didn’t fit into that box, they weren’t gonna go out of their way to tell you where to go to get that help,” Stone said.
Stone said this situation caused them to delay their surgery until the end of the semester. According to Stone, DSS never referred them to the Dean’s office.
Stone said their only option was to speak individually with their professors and they were allowed to take their finals a few days early so they could have the surgery before Christmas.
“I’m glad I delayed it, but I wish they didn’t make students choose between their health and remaining a student because it’s expensive, it’s thousands of dollars a semester to retake it all over. Because I need to miss a week of school for surgery was a very difficult situation to try to navigate and make a decision like that,” Stone said.
Kimble said DSS works closely with the Dean of Students Office, but DSS and the Dean of Students have a separate policy.
If a student is hospitalized, Kimble said DSS tells them to contact their professor as soon as possible and keep DSS in the emails.
Dean of Students Associate Vice Chancellor Lynn Roeder said the University Excused Absence Policy is “pretty strict” and was written by faculty, but the Dean of Students implements it.
Roeder said when John Stiller was the chair of Faculty Senate, they worked together to create more “wiggle room” for medical absences. Roeder said previously, excused absences were only given for representing the institution, death in the immediate family, subpoenas and military duty or orders.
According to Roeder, if a student knows they are in need of surgery they would need to tell the Dean of Students Office. Roeder said if a student needs surgery related to an injury they usually receive an email from the parents and the Dean of Students handles contacting faculty.
“Anybody that has anything like that or is in need of finding out whatever's going on is excused or not excused they need to come here, they can email us, they can call us, we have the stuff all online now, they can fill out a form online, we made it really easy for students after the hurricane (Florence) we wanted to expedite all of this.” Roeder said.