University of Toronto approves Mandatory Leave policy

Over the past year, the University of Toronto has been working on a Mandatory Leave policy that would allow them to ‘suspend’ students experiencing mental illness. Late this week, that policy was finalized.

Mandatory leave policies like this set us back decades on naturalizing disability on campus and efforts to destigmatize accommodation services. Students are just starting to ask for the help they need but now may be too afraid to self identify for fear of forced leave. Disability is already horrendously under represented at the university level and this policy may well drive disability further underground. That’s a real problem when seen in the context of unemployment among DPs, a number driven in part by a lack of access to education.

When I first applied to Western University I was advised not to tell them I’m disabled or they would reject my application. Obviously that wasn’t true (#purpleandproud) but this type of policy will no doubt increase disclosure anxiety, resulting in worse outcomes for students. Years later, students still regularly refuse my suggestion to connect with SSDs (at both the uni and college level) because they’ve heard stories about diagnosis being used against ppl. I try to explain these stories are usually hyperbolic but policies like this legitimize those beliefs.

I can sympathize with the “theory” behind mandatory leave policies, but universities are not in a position to determine benefit from leave. More worrisome, these discriminatory policies are often used more aggressively than intended, disenfranchising ppl the policy wasn’t originally intended to target. At worse, conversations around going on leave could be had with health professionals experienced in the impairment (although this has problems too). Ultimately, going on medical leave is a decision students should be making for themselves (#NothingAboutUsWithoutUs).

On a sarcastic note, a large number of students probably “qualify” as being addicted to alcohol or video games under the DSM. Time to start forcing leave for large swaths of current undergrads engaging in these diagnosable mental illnesses?

By Jeffrey Preston

Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, Jeff has spent his life dedicated to advocating for himself and others with disabilities. With a PhD in Media Studies from Western University, Jeff's research focuses on the representation of disability in popular and digital culture. Jeff is currently an Assistant Professor of Disability Studies at King's University College @ Western University in London, ON.