The Sick and Disabled Student Union is a new club on campus created to provide a space where students with mental and chronic illnesses could receive support that they can’t find elsewhere at Pratt. During the walk-in support groups held every other Monday, students trickle in and out to state their problems, receive support, and give advice. Whenever someone entered the circle, the president of the club, Merlin Sabal, asked, "How are you doing mentally, emotionally, physically?"
Hearing how difficult and painful one member found it to be in class for several hours a day highlighted the issues that Pratt’s three absence policy, which dictates that a student fails a class if they have more than three absences, has. Those who are chronically and mentally ill, of course, are already familiar with the failings of the policy and how impossible it is to work around it without disclosing sensitive information to professors. Another student said that when her sexual assault trauma was affecting her mental health, the only way she could find to get leniency on absences from her professors was to hope they would be sympathetic to her story. This is because there are no federal protections for students with temporary disabilities or mental health issues, so Pratt as an institution does not legally have to excuse mental health days or provide other accommodations. And if Pratt is not legally required to do something for their students, they won't.
It has become clear to me how necessary the SDSU is on campus. The support group and discord server does its best to provide the kind of support the counseling center simply can’t in three sessions. Sabal also explained that the club has plans to make a guide to building accessibility at Pratt, which is badly needed on campus. North and South Hall aren’t accessible at all, and many of the other buildings are only “accessible” through other buildings. For example, the machinery and engineering buildings are only accessible through the back of the chemistry building, and students have to go through studios with sawdust floating around in the air, which makes it a nightmare for people with respiratory issues.
When the support group meeting ended, Sabal asked those in the circle to state one thing they did to care for themselves in the past week. Answers varied from eating a homemade meal to dropping classes. Pratt should also ask itself every week what more they could be doing to care for its population and recognizing where it has failed and made life harder for students.
The SDSU meets on the second Monday of every month from 3PM - 5PM. More information about the discord server, other resources, and the club in general can be found on their Instagram page @prattsdsu.
Illustration by Sarah Kanu