Opinion Submission: Sam Fox’s mental health crisis
“So you just can’t get out of bed, or something?”
This is what my professor in Sam Fox told me on the first day of class, when I informed him that, due to my mental health issues, I may need leniency with attendance and project deadlines throughout the semester.
“Well, yes, among other things.” I told him, feeling lit on fire. There was a group of students barely a few feet behind me, listening in carefully to the conversation. “I can’t control it, it just happens, and in case it does I need to make sure that I won’t fail your class.”
This is too much to ask, apparently, because after a few humiliating seconds of silence, he told me to drop his class.
As I packed up my bags to leave the classroom, I couldn’t even find it in myself to cry. Silently, I sent a good luck wish to all the students in class who watched me leave. They were going to need it. Clearly, their professor (and by extension, their institution) thinks very little of them, and by dropping this class I saved myself.
Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts is one of the most grueling places to be a Washington University student. My earliest memories as a first-year art major are of walking home alone past midnight while the lights of every studio stayed on, packed with different students pulling all-nighters every single day of the week. Critique day is full of artists chugging their coffee and falling asleep in their seats, having forgotten that they need sleep to live and food to survive.
It’s a well-known joke at WashU that Sam Fox students have little regard for their basic needs, but it’s important to note that this is only because we can’t afford the luxury to take care of ourselves. Due to the practice-driven nature of studio classes, Sam Fox students are graded on their punctuality, making absences and late work unacceptable. Therefore, every mental health day results in a deduction, every late project is a failure and every absence past the allotted two bumps down your overall letter grade. We have no choice but to pull through every depressive episode, panic attack and bad day. As a result, many people have sacrificed the best parts of themselves in order to succeed here, selling their organs for good grades.
I, for one, used to be a revolving door to my four-year and major advisor’s offices. Like everyone else, I often failed to address my many health needs and therefore would be written up by all kinds of different Sam Fox professors. That being said, each time I was in trouble, I was told to give my professors the benefit of the doubt. Something like, “They’re just concerned for you because you didn’t show up to class,” or, “They just want you to turn in your projects on time.”
Why don’t they actually help me, then? Why don’t they give me extensions when I ask them to?
I didn’t find leniency for my mental health issues until later in my college career when I started taking classes through other WashU schools where accommodations and extensions are often an email or a discussion away. In particular, I remember a professor who used to send me emails whenever I missed class just to check if I was okay. She even let me make up missed quizzes during office hours, and simply because of her diligent help during a tough semester, I made an A- in the class.
Thus, even though my primary major is art, it is in my non-art classes that I learn the most and feel the most welcomed simply because, under these professors, I am given a chance to thrive. In these classes, I am genuinely cared for and supported, which only makes it even more despicable that Sam Fox doesn’t attempt to measure up.
It has been a semester since the Sam Fox professor told me to drop his class for something I can’t control, and I have taken official measures to protect myself against teachers like him. With the help of my therapist, I have applied for accommodations through disability resources. Hopefully, with an official documentation in hand, no professor would ever say something like that to me again.
However, more than anything, I want Sam Fox to be a safe space where no student would have to go through disability resources to get accomodations for something that, with many professors at WashU, a simple email and discussion can fix. I may have saved myself last time, but my hope is that no one will have to save themselves ever again.
Sam Fox, do better.
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