Students call for changes in Eastern’s Student Disability Services

Kyara Morales-Rodriguez, Campus Reporter

In a survey by The News, current and former students described their experiences with the office of Student Disability Services. (Rob Le Cates)

At the end of an anonymous student’s freshman year at Eastern, her father passed away. The death of her father took a toll on her for years, keeping her from enjoying her college experience to the fullest.  

The student, now a senior exercise science major at Eastern, started seeing a therapist through Eastern’s Counseling Services last spring semester. It was not until then that she started looking into the process of getting her dog registered as an emotional support animal.  

Living with PTSD, anxiety and depression, the student wanted her dog with her because having someone to take care of would help her “keep my mind organized and to feel safe.”  

A process that happens through the Student Disability Services office, starting with documentation proving her need for an emotional support animal. The student made sure to take all the necessary steps, getting all her paperwork filled out with her therapist and the Student Disability Services office.  

Then came a meeting with April Jackson, the director of Student Disability Services at Eastern. She arrived at the office expecting access to its support and services and was instead met with judgment and suspicion, saying that “right from the get-go, it was completely negative.” 

The student said that Jackson asked her why she needs the office’s help, and she explained the struggles she has faced with her mental health. She said that Jackson responded by saying that the paperwork says something “completely different” and that “the wording wasn’t what she was looking for.”  

When she explained why she needed her dog with her on campus, she said that Jackson asked “Well, do you really need her?” 

“She said, I quote ‘I have students who are in wheelchairs and have hearing aids and have hearing disabilities,’” she said. “I took that as, because I don’t have a physical disability, that my well-being doesn’t matter. And she just kept backlashing me and saying that I didn’t need the help, and it was unnecessary for me to have my dog on campus.” 

The student said that she had a panic attack in the middle of the meeting and began hyperventilating.  

“She was just being so rude to me and wouldn’t let me speak,” she said. “Any time I tried to speak, it was her interrupting me. I couldn’t get a word out. And I finally did say ‘I feel like you’re attacking me. I feel like this meeting is pointless,’ and she says ‘well, I’m sorry you feel that way.’” 

The meeting ended with Jackson telling the student to get out of her office, making her leave through the back door “where no one would see me leave her office.”  

“Once I got back to my car, I sat in the parking lot for almost an hour because I was having a panic attack,” she said. “I was going to report her, but I couldn’t find out who her supervisor is.”  

Jackson’s supervisor is Mona Davenport, the dean of student success at Eastern.

The student said that an hour after their meeting, she received an email from Jackson stating that there was a miscommunication between her staff and the Counseling Services office on campus. About a week later, she received another email stating that her dog had been approved as an emotional support animal, but at that point, it was too late.  

She had brought her dog on campus late January with the hopes of getting her approved as an emotional support animal, but she had her taken away, and it was not until the end of February that she was able to bring her back on campus. Not having her dog on campus with her for over a month negatively impacted her mental health. 

“I was doing bad in school,” she said. “I was not socializing with anybody. I was not leaving my room. I was very depressed because I didn’t have my dog with me.”  

The student said that this experience affected how she viewed Eastern, and how she felt as a part of its campus, saying that although Eastern claims to be supportive of students’ mental health, it does not take the steps to help students.  

“It’s a slap in the student’s face,” she said. “I think EIU doesn’t really take the actions to care for their students.”  

Eastern students with documented disabilities expect to find the support and resources they need to be successful during their college career through Student Disability Services. That has not been the case for every student.  

Her experience is not an anomaly, with some Eastern students and alumni sharing that they have not felt supported by the Student Disability Services office through a Daily Eastern News survey.  

The survey received seven responses, with three saying they would not recommend Student Disability Services to other students and three saying they might do so. One person said that they would recommend its services.  

Blake Meadows, an alum who graduated in 2022 with a biology degree, reached out to the Student Disability Services office for an emotional support animal. She said that her experience “was horrible.”  

“The director was very rude and condescending to me, which is not how you should treat someone with mental illnesses or any other disability,” Meadows said. “With everything that has happened in the past years with suicide and suicide attempts on campus I would think that EIU would take mental health more seriously.” 

Hope Eagan, a sophomore music education student, reached out for its services for students with medical and physical disabilities, as well as to address an experience they had with a professor.  

Eagan said that the office was not helpful when she shared that a professor asked if she was disabled in front of her class, and that there was little communication about her disability plan other than when she first reached out for its services.  

“They could also use some more education on disabled people and the community,” Eagan said. “Someone in the disability office supports ‘Autism Speaks’ which is a very harmful organization, and it makes it feel unsafe for autistic folks.”  

Dustin Jackson, a sophomore computer information and technology student, said that he attempted to receive ADD accommodations, but was not able to because of the documentation required to receive those accommodations.  

“This basically cuts accommodations off from anybody who doesn’t have health insurance, forcing poor students without who aren’t on their parent’s insurance to either pay for private sector insurance, deal with the hell that is Medicaid, or not get accommodations,” Dustin said.   

He did not receive the services he was looking for.  

Some students said that they felt there were areas where Student Disability Services could improve.  

One student said that the office needs to stop questioning doctors’ diagnoses. Another said that there needs to be better communication in the process of getting accommodations, as she filled out the documentation needed to receive those accommodations and never heard back from the office.  

For the student remaining anonymous, the solution is simple: “Fire April Jackson.”  

“I think the first step that EIU needs to take for Student Disability Services in that department itself is find a different director for that,” she said. “The people that I’ve talked to that had experiences with her were so negative. It’s frustrating when you’re seeking out help and the person who’s supposed to help students is making things worse.”  

 

Kyara Morales-Rodriguez can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]