Student says they were expelled from the hall because of mental health issues
Warning: This story is about suicide and mental health.
A Victoria University of Wellington student says his mental health deteriorated after he was temporarily kicked out of his dorm because he was having suicidal thoughts.
Alex*, who uses she/she pronouns, had been going through a particularly stressful time in September, feeling depressed and sometimes suicidal.
They lived in Te Puni Village, which until this year was owned by Victoria University and run by Campus Living Village – the same facility that runs the University of Canterbury Hall where student Mason Pendrous died in 2019.
One of Alex’s friends was concerned and told a staff member how Alex had been feeling.
Alex said one evening they were pressured by staff to go immediately to their emergency contact, a cousin in Wellington.
Alex left the hall that evening, unaware that they would not be left behind for two weeks. And only the next morning Alex and her cousin were informed.
“Said [my cousin] that there was ‘a number of things that led to it,'” Alex said.
Hall’s staff were previously aware of Alex’s mental health issues, as were her doctor and counselor, who had an office on site.
“There were a few situations where I had asked the hall for help, as well as my advisor. But at no point did I know that the sacking was something that was on the table, that it was a matter the hall could do.”
But the hall administration can contractually remove a student if they believe they are at risk.
The intention of the policy is to send the student to a place where they might get more support, e.g. B. with the family.
The same clause states that the student will be informed of the situation in writing, which Alex says did not happen.
Alex had only packed a change of clothes and told the hall they would be back for more.
Upon arrival, her magnetic card had been severed. The staff eventually let Alex in but were reluctant to let Alex leave her room.
“He said, ‘Fine, but I’m coming with you,’ and I was like, ‘Absolutely not, it’s so awkward. I pack clothes and underwear and personal things. I don’t really want anyone to see me doing it. “
As a compromise, an employee accompanied Alex to her room to pack.
While Alex was recovering, someone from the hall administration contacted Alex’s estranged mother to let her know what had happened.
Alex had cut ties with her mother earlier this year and removed her from her emergency contact and replaced her with Alex’s cousin.
Alex said it was a complete invasion of privacy.
“I felt betrayed, I had come into this hall to get away from my mother and now they were trying to force me in that direction.”
Nine days after her first night, Alex was cleared by the Capital & Coast DHB Community Mental Health Team to return to her hall.
But Te Puni management still made Alex wait the full two weeks.
During this time, Alex was not billed for room fees.
The whole ordeal took a toll on the mental health of Alex, who said it felt like they were still “walking on eggshells” after returning to the village of Te Puni.
Alex’s studies were already deteriorating before they were removed from the hall, but they said the ordeal made it that much harder to study.
Alex made a formal complaint to the university.
The university has since processed this, but informed RNZ that it would not comment publicly on this.
In an earlier statement, before the investigation was complete, the university said details of Alex’s experience were “inconsistent” with their processes.
Rainsforth Dix, Victoria University’s director of student and campus life, said the university has confidence in its processes, which “prioritise well-being and are guided by health professionals”.
Dame Sue Bagshaw, a GP and youth health advocate in Christchurch, believes policies on student ejections should be revoked.
“It feels like, ‘If they’re going to die, don’t let them die in the halls because we get the blame. Let them die in someone’s lounge.’ That’s just risk avoidance, that’s not risk reduction.”
Dame Bagshaw said one of the most important things students living in halls need is a sense of belonging, and being removed from the hall wouldn’t have helped at all.
“The important duty [residential halls] having is not just a roof over your head, it really is another home. Because if you don’t feel safe and secure, you can’t really learn.”
Victoria University Student Union President Ralph Zambrano said the expulsion went against the hall’s values.
“When students are put in a place they don’t feel comfortable with, it just totally contradicts this idea that a dorm should be a place they can call home,” he said.
Alex’s mental health has improved since late last year and they have not been working in Wellington over the summer break.
When asked how it felt to be away from the arena forever, Alex said, “It’s like I can breathe again.”
*Name has been changed.