Section: Opinion

I’m a person, not a liability: Instead of supporting me, Kenyon tried to kick me out for having a mental illness

Content warning: suicide

My first semester at Kenyon, I tried to kill myself. The months leading up to that day were obviously horrible, but what came after, and specifically how Kenyon treated me, was extremely traumatic as well. Instead of the College asking me how it could support me, Kenyon made me feel like it would be better without me, and this validated the insecurities that led to my suicide attempt in the first place. 

After my attempt, I was hospitalized in a psych ward for a little over a week. This was at the beginning of October, so I spent my first ever fall break in a psychiatric hospital. The College recommended that I withdraw for the semester, but I thought it would just make me feel worse; I was having a hard time adjusting to college and feeling like I was part of the community. My home life was somewhat complicated as my parents lived in Brazil at the time. Instead of leaving, I worked with doctors to come up with a plan for treatment in Ohio, and came back to Kenyon hopeful for the rest of the semester. 

Adjusting to life at Kenyon after my hospitalization was really hard, but the most difficult part was that I did not feel like I had adequate support from the College. I was in therapy nine hours a week, not including the travel time it took to get to treatment in Columbus. I wasn’t trying to rely on Kenyon for treatment, and I didn’t want to lean on the institution for help because I felt lucky enough to even have been allowed back. However, the College offered me little support outside seeing a counselor at the Counseling Center. 

The incident in which Kenyon hurt me the most, however, happened over Halloween weekend. That Friday night, I left a party crying, and my friends, following orders the College had previously given them, called Campus Safety on me. I sat with a Campus Safety officer and reassured him I was not a danger to myself. The next night, I got a random knock on my door, and a counselor from the Counseling Center asked if I could come with him. They led me from my room in Gund to a conference room in the Counseling Center where a bunch of strangers and my mother were gathered. 

My mother had received a call asking her to come move me out of Kenyon as my presence had now become a “disruption” to my peers. They had told her not to let me know she was coming. I understand that my mental health can impact those around me and that I should’ve acted more effectively to avoid worrying my friends, but I don’t think that justifies blindsiding me by asking my mother to drive all the way from Maryland without letting me know. 

I insisted I wanted to stay. I hadn’t done anything wrong; I just needed help. I was told to leave campus for the weekend while the College made a decision about whether I would have to withdraw. I met with the dean of students the following Monday and was told that I was allowed to stay as long as I agreed to a few terms. In a strange way, it felt like signing an NDA. I was told, because of the disruption my mental health caused in the past, that I was not allowed to tell my peers if I was struggling with suicidal ideation or thoughts of harming myself. 

Because of the fear I felt about possibly being asked to leave if I broke any of the conditions, I internalized most of what I was going through. I did not process the trauma of those months until I began having nightmares around the anniversary of my suicide attempt, in October of my sophomore year. Kenyon, as an institution, made me feel like me asking for help was a burden to my peers and being open about my experiences and struggles was a disruption. During a time when I was navigating immense trauma, I was treated like a liability instead of a human being. 

My story is just a single experience of being mentally ill at Kenyon, but I think it highlights that Kenyon does not have adequate support for students who are struggling. On paper, Kenyon has a great counseling center. However, in practice, the resources are often just not enough. And while colleges in general tend to have blind spots when it comes to mental health, because of Kenyon’s location, seeking help outside of the College is extremely difficult. No college is perfect, but for an institution that prides itself on caring about each and every individual, Kenyon needs to do better.

I love Kenyon deeply and am glad I never left, but this place is full of triggers for me. Many milestones I went through here went hand in hand with the worst, most traumatic year of my life. I’ve had professors and peers who have been unbelievably supportive and accommodating throughout my struggles, and without that amount of community support I honestly think I would’ve transferred. 

Even on my best days, deep down, I still do not feel like I deserve to be at Kenyon. I often feel like things would have been easier for everyone at this college if I had left when I was told I should. However, I know I have a place here. My mental health struggles do not prevent me from being a valuable member of this community. I’ve worked hard to be part of it, and I hope I’ve had a positive impact on other people’s Kenyon experiences. I’m a person, not a liability. 

Emiliana Cardinale ’21 is an English major from Caracas, Venezuela. She can be contacted at cardinale1@kenyon.edu.

7 Comments

Comments are subject to review and moderation. We won't publish your email address or send you unsolicited emails.