11 June 2011

PTSD - and being dropped from the university. Ack!

This week I met with a committee consisting of a dean and two faculty members, to appeal the university's decision to drop me as a student. I wasn't able to get my GPA above the required level this semester, which is what got me into this situation. Being dropped as a student is close to worst thing that can happen to a student, because it means you can't take classes at that school for a specified time. (The worst, I think, is academic misconduct-- cheating, plagiarism, etc.) You also have to apply for readmission if you want to return.

Here's how it went down.

I was allowed to submit a written appeal a few days before the meeting. There were two sessions of appeals on different days, so there were also separate deadlines for submitting the written appeal.  I got mine in five minutes before the last deadline. It wasn't perfectly polished, but if I had missed that deadline, even by a minute, I'd be dropped for a year. So I clicked that submit button with five minutes to spare. Shortly after that, I received an email back from a dean saying they'd received my submission, and I needed to call to set up an appointment on the meeting day. The dean advised doing so immediately, and I took the dean's advice.

The actual appeal had three parts: first, the committee reviewing my appeal had time to read my written appeal and discuss my reasons for wanting to stay, and my justification for being allowed to stay and take classes in fall. Next, I met all three members of the committee, where the process was explained. The committee members asked a number of questions about my written appeal, about my goals in college, and where I was headed in life.

They also surprised me, by thanking me for my service to my country. To me, this meant two things-- it always feels good to hear, but it's always a little awkward.  Second, each of the three committee members knew I was a Veteran. That proved to be a good thing.

I was then able to state my case, and present any additional information.  I had letters from my social worker and from my psychiatrist at the VA. They both jumped through hoops to get the letters written so I could present them at the appeal. (They didn't pass the task on to an administrative person-- they typed and printed the letters on VA letterhead themselves.) All three of the committee members reviewed both letters, and I was again able to ask questions and add any additional comments.

When that was finished, I sat in a separate room while the committee decided my fate.  It took about fifteen minutes, and the dean gave me the news: the committee upheld me being dropped.

However, the drop is only for one semester, after which I'll be able to reapply for admission in spring 2012. The dean is also going to stay in touch with me over the summer while I finish my incomplete class, and while I take classes this fall at the local technical college. I'm not guaranteed readmission, but having a dean on my side certainly will help.

Throughout the entire appeal process, I was honest about how the semester went. On the written appeal and at the meeting, I talked about the trouble sleeping, the anxiety of being in class, the flashbacks, the nightmares, and everything else that happened. I listed my medications, and talked about mindfulness. I talked about the anniversary of Desert Storm being a catalyst for my PTSD this semester, and they made it a point to try to understand.

The committee also pointed out that I'm in one of the toughest majors (Computer Science) at this university.  They took that into account, too.

In my psychiatrist's letter, he did mention that I may have rough patches in the future. When asked about that by the committee, I agreed- who knows what will be a trigger next month, or next year?-- and that was a factor in the decision to uphold me being dropped. This may be the point where you say the doc said what? Before you do, hold on for a second.

It's true. I'm still working on getting myself stabilized. The mindfulness and the new medication do need some time to reach full effect. All three members of the committee made it clear that I wasn't being punished-- being dropped gives me some space, and some time to get better at dealing with everything. When I come back in spring, I'll have had time to recover to the point where I can meet the challenges of my remaining classes. The university wants me to do well and to succeed-- they made it clear that I have their full support and they want me back as a student.

I also have a dangling-out-there foreign language requirement to satisfy; it'll be hard anyway, but it'll be easier if I take it at the local tech college. The members of the committee suggested that getting that class out of the way would make it easier for me when I do come back. And I agree, that's a good point.

So, back to technical college I go, for one semester.  Very doable.

The only advice I have to offer is the same advice I've given myself. The world isn't ending, life isn't over. Take things one step at a time. You can't get there from here sometimes; you need to take a step between here and there first. I have the support of the university, my providers at the VA, and my own drive and ambition. One step at a time got me here. Keep taking steps, one at a time.

Don't ever give up. Ever.

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