Almost every conversation I have on Barnard’s campus involves the question, “What year are you?” and I never know how to respond.
I came to Barnard in Fall 2016 as a first year student with high-functioning depression and anorexia nervosa. I took 20 credits. I was pretty social. I did all my work ahead of time, got good grades, and went to sleep at a decent hour every night. While on campus, my parents asked me to see counseling services, and I did. There, the therapist asked me to see the medical doctor, and I did. They didn’t want me living on campus, so every day, my dad drove me to school for my 8 am class and picked me up after my 7 pm one.
Just after my 19th birthday, I had to take a medical leave of absence from Barnard. I went from the emergency room to an inpatient hospital, to another inpatient hospital. Four months later, I was discharged back into the real world at a healthy weight and with a healthier mindset. I was very ready to come back to Barnard for the 2016-2017 school year, feeling very confident and positive.
But, Barnard was not as ready.
The Barnard Primary Care Health Services (PCHS here on out) called me mid-summer and left a voicemail to inform me of Barnard’s readmission policy. “I’m going to need to see you in person this week to do a weight check on you in order for you to be readmitted in the fall… We’re looking at a target weight for you of about X…” The weight the woman said on the phone was 20 pounds lower than the weight I was at the time.
I was pissed-the-fuck-off. Then enraged. Then ashamed, conflicted, incredibly confused, and all this anger was towards myself. Why? Essentially, a doctor had just told me I could weigh less! Maybe even SHOULD!!! And furthermore, I had worked to become healthy for school, but now it seemed I didn’t need to be.
Then, the night before I was set to move back to college, I received an email saying that I needed a second “weight check” and wouldn’t be allowed to be on campus tomorrow. WHAT. I sent around some emails, made phone calls, and later that night, the dean of students approved my return to campus.
However, I was suspended from using myBarnard and CourseWorks for the first week of classes until PCHS “cleared” me. I wasn’t given a class year. I had to take the FY Writing & Seminar courses, pay for a room in the quad I never once used, and buy the first year meal plan, BUT was deemed a sophomore on the 9 Ways of Knowing curriculum. I had five withdrawals on my transcript. I was called back to PCHS every single week for another “weight check.”
HERE ARE THE REAL ISSUES.
I’m not writing a blog post to whine about some clinicians hurting my feelings and inconveniencing me. Also, it’s not just me this has happened to: I’ve spoken to other students who also dealt with this when coming back to Barnard after a medical leave for an eating disorder. While our experiences at BC PCHS are unfortunate, they’re telling of a MUCH greater issue in the structure of our school’s health care facilities. I will enumerate them below.
1. Barnard is a progressive, liberal, women’s college… If there’s any place in the world that should be attuned to the medical and mental intricacies of eating disorders, it’s Barnard.
2. Barnard does not have a clear-cut, publicly accessible re-admission policy. This matters A LOT. Students seeking to come back to school need a tangible way to ensure they’ll be able to attend. My re-admission involved me driving into the city half a dozen times, waiting to meet with clinicians and deans to have very vague and unstructured conversations, STILL to be left with not being enrolled for the first week of class.
3. PCHS’s “weekly weight check” is invasive. I see a full outpatient team who all know me much better than Barnard does. I (generously) gave PCHS written permission to contact my outpatient team, but they declined to do so, and chose to focus on a number on a scale instead of comprehensive reports from my team.
4. Barnard ignored the “mental” part of mental health. As I’ve mentioned a dozen times (and will a dozen more,) they focused on my weight. Not my habits. Not my social life. Not my happiness. Not my schoolwork. No other barometers of how I’m doing, besides the number. They never even contacted my outpatient team to ask about me. Once again, Barnard doesn’t seem to understand eating disorders.
5. PCHS created an environment of contention and discomfort. Overall, they made it very clear that seeing me was what was important to them. Not by talking to a team of my actual doctors, or talking to me. I still have to go there sometimes for insurance referrals. Every time, I can feel their eyes glue to my body, and give me that up-n-down look, trying to evaluate my mental health and wellbeing by my appearance. This does not exactly inspire my confidence in them, or improve my willingness to see them again.
Why Does This Matter Now?
I also wonder why I feel this is the time to write about my experience with PCHS. In our current political climate, I know there are more important, pressing, and relevant things. But, self-care is also incredibly important, pressing, and relevant in this environment. Barnard has sent emails to all students, urging them to take care of themselves and their physical & emotional needs during these upsetting weeks.
Additionally, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles written about stress culture, mental health, and the absolutely horrific amount of Columbia student suicides this academic year (SEVEN). I think it’s great that people are finally talking about these issues. And this is another one that needs to be addressed.
“Stress culture” manifests itself in a variety of ways, and neglect of physical health due to current emotional issues is a big one. Based on my experience, I don’t feel confident that Barnard’s PCHS is able to properly address these problems and get students the help they need.