A Canadian student has laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission over Victoria University’s decision to deny her exchange because of her mental illness.
The student, Kristin Legault, alleges the university denied her exchange last year because she suffers from bipolar disorder. “I was offered a place – an unconditional offer – by Victoria University,” Legault told RNZ when her exchange was initially revoked. But when she told the university she was on medication for bipolar disorder – something she had not been asked to disclose by the application process, but which she had decided to disclose herself – Victoria University “got their backs up”. Legault said she was asked to provide an uncomfortable amount of medical information to the university: she sent through her background information, a discharge summary, what supports she thought she would need, and a recovery plan she had devised alongside a psychologist. “I basically sent through my whole medical records,” she said. She felt it was unnecessary since she had arranged to meet with a Wellington-based psychologist and psychiatrist upon her arrival, and planned to pay for any medical costs through her insurance. “I made contacts and support systems outside of campus, so it doesn’t really involve them,” she said.
Since last year, Legault has filed an official complaint with the Human Rights Commission over Victoria University’s conduct. New Zealand human rights lawyer Frances Joychild says Legault’s claim isn’t frivolous: it’s unlawful to discriminate against someone with a mental illness unless there is reason to believe they would be a risk to themselves or others. “Given that she’s very proactive in managing her mental disability and that she already had a psychologist and psychiatrist in NZ, the support of her college back in Canada, her primary parents and her own psychologist to come to NZ for a term, it’s very difficult to see how she would have been a risk to herself or others,” she told RNZ. In addition, Joychild says the university could not be said to have made an informed decision on the matter, as they did not attempt to seek advice from Legault’s medical people in Canada. “You can’t make a decision without talking to those people who created her own medical file,” she said.
Victoria University Provost Wendy Larner says the university “will cooperate fully with the Commission’s process” and “[is] confident [it] made the correct decision in this case and that [its] actions are not in breach of the human rights act”. She claims “there is considerable incorrect information in the public arena regarding this situation”, but (as of time of writing) has not clarified what information she believes has been incorrectly reported.