Page 1

November  2nd,  2013  

  Dear  Members  of  the  Brown  Community,       On  this,  the  2nd  day  of  November,  I  write  this  letter  mournfully.    Michael   Dawkins  ‘12/‘13.5  has  died.    In  this  bleak  moment  of  bereavement,  a  friend,   whom  Michael  and  I  share,  reminded  me  of  a  simple  truth:  HE  STILL  LIVES.     And  yet  many  will  reduce  the  life  of  Michael  Dawkins  to  a  corpse  in  Peru.     Many  will  forget  that  he  was  a  prodigy  in  the  arts,  playing  the  piano  as  if  he   first  imagined  it,  as  if  it  was  of  his  own  creation.    Many  will  forget  his  gift  for   language:  Michael  spoke  Arabic  and  French,  among  other  tongues,  with   charisma  and  with  grace.    Many  will  forget  the  tremendous  obstacles  he   overcame  as  a  racially  oppressed  person  in  20th  and  21st  century  America.     Many  will  remember  him  as  a  corpse  in  Peru,  far  far  away.     When  I  think  of  Michael,  I  remember  a  dinner  we  had  with  other  friends  on   Thayer  Street,  where  he  expressed  his  commitment  to  changing  the  world   with  his  gifts,  and  where  he  affirmed  me  for  everything  I  was,  letting  me   know  that  I  too  mattered,  that  I  too  was  as  brilliant  and  as  important  as   everyone  else.    Michael  was  genius,  was  hope,  was  a  child  of  the  Divine.       There  is  no  need  to  belabor  the  point  of  what  the  world  has  lost.    He  is  a   saint;  he  is  an  ancestor.    We  rejoice  in  the  celebration  of  his  beautiful  life  and   sing,  “Amen”  and  “Ashe.”     Though  in  this  celebration  of  life  and  this  mourning  of  death,  there  is   another  tragedy.    There  is  an  unspoken  problem.  Michael,  while  studying  at   Brown,  was  told  to  take  a  medical  leave  due  to  reasons  concerning  his   mental  health.    To  date  we  do  not  know  all  of  the  details  of  his  last  day  on   earth,  the  facts  of  which  remain  unclear.    Still,  it  remains  true  that  Michael   was  put  on  leave  for  psychological  reasons,  reasons  that  will  not  be  named  in   this  letter—  and  he,  like  so  many  Brown  students,  was  told  to  go  away.     Because  when  a  student  who  is  dealing  with  the  difficulties  of  a  mental   health  condition  is  told,  “You  must  take  a  medical  leave,”  in  their  ears  they   tend  to  hear,  “Go,  go  away.”             Imagine  you  are  Michael,  a  student  who  has  triumphed  over  so  many   obstacles  to  attend  one  of  the  most  prestigious  universities  in  the  world.     And  like  Michael,  you  have  begun  to  define  yourself  on  your  own  terms,  and   have  made  close  and  intimate  friends,  who  accept  and  love  you  for  who  you    

1


are. And  you,  like  Michael,  work  very  hard  at  everything  you  do,  because  you   understand  that  you  are  at  a  university  whose  access  and  resources  give  you   promise,  hope,  and  a  chance  to  make  a  difference  with  your  life.    Then   something  happens  to  you  while  you  are  at  this  university,  something  so   difficult  you  become  sad  to  the  point  where  it  disrupts  your  daily   functioning.    You  are  depressed.    You,  being  the  intelligent  and  promising   student  you’ve  been  told  you  are,  seek  help  from  campus  administrators.     And  they  listen  and  take  note,  and  you  have  psych  services  sessions.    And  if   the  condition  intensifies,  Brown  tells  you  what  it  told  Michael.    Brown  gets   concerned  and  they  tell  you  to  go  away,  to  take  a  leave  of  absence—   explaining  to  you  that  your  only  means  back  into  the  university  is  through  a   medical  readmission  process  of  which  you  have  never  heard.     This  is  not  unique  to  Michael,  nor  is  it  specific  to  his  case.    Brown  has  done   this  in  several  other  instances  across  the  spectrum  of  mental  health   conditions.    There  have  been  other  students  who  needed  help,  students  who   were  dealing  with  mental  health  problems  for  the  first  time,  and  all  that  was   afforded  them  was  a  dismissal.    They,  like  Michael,  were  told  to  go  away:  to   leave  all  their  friends;  to  not  see  their  professors;  to  discontinue  academic   engagement  at  Brown;  to  go  away  as  if  there  is  a  place  to  go,  because  Brown   assumes  that  every  student  has  a  home  outside  of  Providence.         So  like  Michael,  you  go  away  because  you  realize  that  Brown  has  the  legal   right  to  remove  you  from  its  premises  if  it  considers  you  a  liability,  a  threat   to  the  smooth  functioning  of  the  university  and  its  activities.    Even  if  you   have  no  history  of  being  violent  or  disruptive  on  campus,  you  are  removed—   quarantined.    You  are  isolated;  isolated  at  a  time  in  your  life  where  you  need   as  much  love  as  the  world  can  give,  as  your  friends  can  give,  as  Brown  can   give.    You,  like  Michael,  are  told  to  go  away.    All  the  while,  you  receive  phone   calls  asking  you  to  donate  money  to  help  fund  the  university’s  projects.    All   the  while,  no  Brown  administrator  has  called  to  hear  if  you  are  faring  well.     So  Michael  went  away.    He  was  dealing  with  a  mental  health  condition.    He   went  away,  though  away  was  not  home,  and  home  was  not  Baton  Rouge.     He,  like  many  students,  believed  that  Brown  was  his  home:  a  place  of  safety   and  refuge,  where  one’s  gifts  are  nurtured...  where  one  can  be  who  one  is,   where  one  is  loved.    So  Michael  couch  hopped,  moving  throughout   Providence  from  the  home  of  one  friend  to  the  next,  being  at  Brown  and   outside  of  it  at  the  same  time.    Being  at  Brown,  and  then  removed  from   Brown,  and  then  no  longer  Brown,  wanting  to  be  inside  of  it  and  not  allowed   in.    All  of  this,  while  addressing  mental  health  concerns.    He  did  not   complain.    He  did  not  give  up.    He  tried  his  hardest  to  make  the  best  of    

2


things and  to  overcome  his  adversities.    After  his  passing,  a  friend  told  me   that  he  would  smile  at  her  and  promise  her  he  would  be  okay,  even  while   Brown  gave  him  no  support...  even  when  Brown  knew  of  his  condition.         How  do  I  know  this?    How  can  I  speak  to  this  experience?    To  the  former  I   knew  Michael  and  I  know  his  story.    And  to  the  latter,  I  have  lived  this   experience  during  my  own  time  at  Brown.    I  was  interviewed  by  the  Brown   Daily  Herald  about  my  experiences  with  the  medical  leave  process,  and  I   attempted  to  make  clear  the  simple  fact  that  telling  students  to  go  away   primarily  serves  the  university  and  rarely  the  student  with  the  condition.     During  my  own  medical  leave  and  after  my  interview  with  the  BDH,  I  was   incredibly  vocal  about  these  issues.    I  spoke  to  several  members  of  the  Brown   administration  because  of  my  inability  to  tolerate  this  injustice,  and  because   after  the  interview  went  public,  I  received,  and  still  do  receive,  calls  and   Facebook  messages  from  students—  both  undergraduate  and  graduate—  in   very  similar  situations.    I  was  largely  ignored  by  the  people  with  whom  I   spoke.  In  fact,  one  administrator,  Dr.  Belinda  Johnson,  told  me  that  I  should   consider  myself  lucky,  that  students  at  other  universities  suffer  greatly  at  the   hands  of  their  institution’s  medical  leave  policies.    She  said  this  with  a   firmness  in  her  voice,  confidently  implying  that  Brown  should  measure  its   successes  by  the  failures  of  its  peers.         There  were  exceptions—  Dean  Maria  E.  Suarez  was  one  such  example.    After   getting  to  know  me  as  a  student,  Dean  Suarez  made  every  attempt  to  listen   to  me  and  to  my  parents,  even  to  my  friends  on  campus.    She  took  note  of   my  complaints  and  in  many  ways  took  care  of  me.    And  it  helped   tremendously.    Still,  I  could  tell  that  even  she  did  not  have  the  power  to  fix   the  systemic  problems  I  spoke  out  against,  and  that  her  office,  the  Office  of   Student  Life,  was  woefully  underfunded  and  understaffed.         What  is  more,  Dean  Suarez,  being  one  of  the  few  non-­‐white  administrators   at  Brown,  understood  not  only  the  difficulties  that  mental  health  problems   bring,  but  also  how  race  complicated  them.    We  must  be  honest.    If  we  were   asked  how  “mentally  ill”  white  women  exist  in  their  medical  conditions,  it  is   very  likely  that  we  would  have  a  different  set  of  assumptions  as  compared  to   our  response  for  “mentally  ill”  black  women.    Brown,  which  is  an  institution   that  finds  itself  in  a  racist  society  and  actively  participates  in  that  racism,   makes  those  same  assumptions.    As  a  consequence,  it  has  trifled  with  its   students  of  color,  time  and  time  again.    To  be  a  Brown  student  is  to  be   exceptional.    To  be  a  black  Brown  student  is  to  be  doubly  exceptional,   because  racism  does  not  allow  for  intelligence  to  belong  to  black  people  or   black  culture.  Brown  will  celebrate  black  accomplishments,  adorning  black    

3


students with  accolades,  showering  them  with  esteem...  yet  the  moment  it   comes  time  to  address  Brown’s  history  with  oppressing  black  people,  from  its   slave-­‐trade  funded  inception  to  the  present,  there  is  a  chilling  silence.    The   moment  a  black  student  says  they  have  a  problem,  is  the  moment  they   become  damaged  goods—  Brown  tells  them  to  go  away.     Michael  was  a  musical  prodigy.    Michael  articulated  a  mental  health   concern.    Michael  was  told  to  go  away.         Many  pressures  tempt  Brown  to  make  such  decisions.    Brown  concerns  itself   with  marketability,  fearing  that  it  will  become  the  next  suicide-­‐ivy.    Brown   concerns  itself  fiscally,  giving  more  resources  to  dormitories  and  campus   centers,  which  are  never  in  true  need  of  massive  renovation,  as  opposed  to   truly  investing  in  the  quality  of  the  mental  health  of  its  student  body.    Brown   concerns  itself  regarding  liability,  fearing  that  it  will  be  held  responsible  if   one  of  its  students  with  a  mental  health  problem  commits  acts  of  violence  on   campus.  The  fear,  particularly  that  of  the  latter,  is  prejudiced.    The   overwhelming  majority  of  violent  crimes  committed  at  Brown  are  done  at   the  hands  of  people  without  mental  health  conditions.    In  fact,  Brown  goes   to  great  lengths  to  make  sure  that  violent  students  without  mental  health   conditions,  particularly  those  who  commit  crimes  of  sexual  abuse  and   aggravation,  go  unpunished.    All  one  need  do  is  google:  BROWN  SEXUAL   ASSAULT  to  find  the  evidence  of  the  fact.    At  Brown,  if  a  student  rapes  a   colleague,  the  university  will  bend  over  backwards  to  ensure  that  said   student  stays  enrolled  and  remains  on  campus.    Yet,  if  a  student  tells  an   administrator  that  they  have  a  mental  health  problem,  the  student  runs  the   risk—  and  it  is  a  large  risk  with  heavy  consequences—  of  being  asked  to  go   away.         What  is  worse,  all  of  this  could  be  prevented.    For  as  much  as  Brown  boasts   about  its  innovation  of  thought  and  of  knowledge  productions,  I  find  that  its   imagination  is  not  as  wide  and  as  deep  as  it  could  be.    If  the  people  leading   Brown  University  expect  any  intelligent,  critically  thinking  human  being  to   believe  that  the  primary  option,  the  most  effective  possibility  in  the  deep   wells  of  human  thought  and  imagination,  on  a  campus  that  is  supposed  to  be   a  space  of  great  intellect...    that  the  primary  option  they  have  available  to   students  dealing  with  difficulties  in  mental  health  is  to  tell  them  to  go  away,   then  I  think  the  Brown  community  has  a  serious  and  dangerous  problem.           Brown’s  endowment  had  a  market  value  of  2.4  billion  in  November  of  2012,   an  endowment  that  has  afforded  the  University  a  $902  million  operating   budget  for  the  2014  fiscal  year.    And  with  that  money,  the  university  focuses    

4


its attention  on  new  and  often  times  unnecessary  construction  and   reconstruction  that  occurs  every  year.    During  my  last  semester  at  Brown,   most  students  with  whom  I  spoke  complained  that  already  high  functioning   dormitories  like  Andrews  Hall  did  not  need  renovations.    According  to  the   Report  of  the  University  Resources  Committee  to  the  President,  released  in   February  of  this  year,  those  students’  perceptions  of  gross  funding   disproportionalities  were  correct.    Pursuant  to  Appendix  C  of  the  FY2014   University  E  and  G  Operating  Budget,  the  section  of  the  report  that  outlines   the  budget  for  undergraduate  and  graduate  colleges  at  Brown,  Student   Services,  the  line  item  that  funds  mental  health  services,  received  less  than   half  of  the  funding  of  the  Facilities,  and  Debt  Renewal  line  items,  the  line   item  that  funds  campus  renovation.         Now,  other  expenditures  are  collapsed  in  the  Student  Services  line  item.     However,  all  one  has  to  do  is  read  the  report  to  see  how  much  the  URC   allocates  to  mental  health  services.    On  page  14  of  the  document,  the  URC   commendably  outlines  a  commitment  to  address  the  mental  health  of  Brown   students  saying,  “Responding  to  student  crisis  situations  is  a  function  that   must  be  staffed  around  the  clock  and  throughout  the  year.  The  demands  on   existing  student  support  staff  have  been  rising.”    Thus,  they  recommend  that   the  University  allocate  $90,000  to  achieve  this  goal  and  address  “the  current   level  of  need.”    This  amount  is  to  be  allocated  not  only  to  the  E  and  G   appendices;  it  also  includes  those  of  the  medical  school,  school  of  public   health,  and  auxiliary  operations  expenses.    How  $90,000  is  to  address  the   needs  of  the  huge  volume  of  students  across  all  sectors  of  the  university  is   both  unclear  to  anyone  who  knows  the  purchasing  power  of  $90,000  in  the   current  economy,  and  is  unspecified  in  the  document.       Now,  in  February  of  2012  the  Brown  Corporation,  Brown’s  primary  governing   body,  approved  a  $56  million  dollar  plan  for  the  improvement  of  campus   housing  for  the  2013  fiscal  year.    This  expenditure  represented  2.3%  of   Brown’s  endowment.    How  can  we  make  sense  of  this  number?    Consider  the   fact  that  according  to  Yale  University’s  2011-­‐2012  Financial  Report,  Yale   allocated  $284.5  million  for  the  disbursement  of  building  projects,  a  value   that  comprises  1.47%  of  its  endowment’s  $19  billion  market  value  in  2012.     Brown,  whose  endowment  is  almost  a  tenth  of  Yale’s,  is  outspending  Yale  by   almost  50%  with  respect  to  this  line  item.    This,  when  Brown  is  one-­‐sixth  the   size  of  Yale  in  acreage.    And  Brown’s  2.3%  expenditure  only  represents  the   money  allocated  to  student  housing.    It  does  not  include  money  allocated  to   other  buildings  and  property  on  campus.    The  numbers  underscore  what   Brown  students  recognize  anecdotally:  Brown  is  not  cutting  its  coat   according  to  its  size.    The  University  prioritizes  looking  as  aesthetically    

5


pleasing as  other  Ivy  League  institutions  without  the  money  of  other  Ivy   League  institutions—  all  at  the  expense  of  caring  for  the  real  needs  of  its   students.         Brown  must  invest  in  mental  health.    Consider  the  fact  that  Purdue   University,  the  university  that  comes  after  Brown  in  the  2012  endowment   market  value  rankings  of  the  National  Association  of  College  and  University   Business  Officers  (NACUBO),  offers  more  comprehensive  mental  health   services  than  our  university.    Purdue’s  Counseling  and  Psychological  Services   offers  students  counseling  for  drug  and  alcohol  abuse.    They  also  offer   coaching  for  students  with  Attention  Deficit/Hyperactivity  Disorder   (ADHD).    Purdue  even  offers  group  therapy  for  their  students,  which  I   imagine  mitigates  feelings  of  isolation  amongst  students  who  attend.   Surprisingly  too,  Purdue  uses  mindfulness  based  therapies  and  other   contemplative  practices  such  as  meditation  to  address  mental  health  on   their  campus,  while  Brown  actively  disengages  its  contemplative  studies   community—a  community  that  boasts  of  scholars  like  Dr.  Willoughby   Britton  and  Dr.  Christopher  Hill,  a  community  that  is  widely  respected   across  the  world.         Given  all  this,  I  must  tell  all  of  you,  every  member  of  the  Brown  community   that  very  little  is  given  to  students  like  Michael—  very  little  at  all.    The  point   is  not  that  medical  leave  should  not  be  an  option  Brown  uses  to  help  its   students.    The  point  is  that  medical  leave  should  not  be  the  primary  option   deployed,  and  when  it  is  used  it  must  be  done  in  the  right  contexts  with   support,  care,  and  follow  up.    Where  is  the  house  that  Brown  could  have   purchased  for  students  like  Michael  who  have  nowhere  to  go?    Where  are   the  staff  members  that  Brown  could  have  hired  to  check  up  on  him?    When   comes  the  day  on  campus  where  mental  health  is  actively  discussed  and   destigmatized  on  campus?    Where  are  the  mental  health  peer  counselors   that  other  universities  hire  for  their  student  body?    There  ought  to  have  been   such  resources  in  place.    There  ought  not  to  have  been  a  lacking.         There  is  a  real  problem  in  Providence,  and  it  is  my  hope  that  members  of  the   Brown  community,  who  have  directly  experienced  this  problem,  will  become   more  vocal  about  addressing  it.    It  is  not  enough  for  us  to  complain  to  each   other  through  telephone  calls  and  emails—  someone  has  died—  we  must   speak  out.    There  is  a  real  problem  in  Providence,  and  all  one  has  to  do  is  be   an  empathetic,  critical  thinker  to  see  it.    The  problem  is  simple:  Brown   cannot  continue  to  use  distant  and  reductionist  tools  in  addressing  the   mental  health  of  its  community  on  and  off  its  campus.    Brown  must  do  more   and  say  more  than  go  away.    In  addition  to  the  several  suggestions  I  have    

6


already made,  one  thing  that  the  university  can  do  immediately,  with  little   cost  or  complication,  is  facilitate  conversations  on  campus.    Let  us  talk  about   mental  health  at  Brown,  not  as  a  debate,  not  as  a  lecture  or  a  panel,  not  to   defend  ego  or  the  university  name.    Let  us  talk  as  people—  equal  in  every   sense  of  the  word,  not  essentialized  by  position  or  title.      Let  Paxson  be  equal   to  Paula  in  the  Blue  Room.    Let  Klawunn  be  equal  to  Jose  at  the  Ratty.    Let   first  years  be  equal  to  professors.    Let  us  talk  as  human  beings  with  our   human  voices  in  honesty,  so  that  together  we  may  rise,  so  that  together  we   may  live.    For  if  we  keep  saying  go  away,  there  is  a  chance  that  they  will  stay   just  there—away,  far  far  away.           Because  so  many  of  us  know  that  Michael  should  not  have  had  to  couch  hop,   looking  for  a  place  to  stay  each  night,  sleeping  in  places  that  were  not  his   own.    He  should  have  been  taken  care  of.         Many  people  might  say,  “Brown  cannot  afford  the  liability  of  having  unstable   students  on  campus.”    I  say,  “Unstable  people  are  of  every  kind  and  are   everywhere,  known  and  unknown.”    People  might  say,  “They  have  to  go   away,  they  are  too  unstable  to  read  and  learn  and  take  classes.”  To  them  I   say,  “Most  medical  leave  students  spend  their  time  either  working  or  taking   classes  elsewhere.  Their  brains  still  work,  their  intelligence  is  still  intact.”     People  might  say,  “Brown  cannot  afford  what  you  are  suggesting.”    I  say,   “Brown’s  wealth  is  greater  than  the  GDP  of  several  countries  as  determined   by  Purchasing  Power  Parity,  countries  like  Cape  Verde,  Guinea-­‐Bissau,   Samoa,  Saint  Kitts  and  Nevis,  among  many  others.”    People  might  say,   “Brown  is  the  happiest  school  in  the  United  States.”    To  them  I  answer   seldom  a  word.           Many  Brown  students,  faculty,  staff,  and  alumni  understand  this  reality.     They  are  critical—  wise  enough  not  to  confuse  their  Brown  friendships  and   memories  for  the  Brown  institution,  wise  enough  not  to  confuse  the  forest   for  the  trees.    They  know  that  those  acceptance  letters  sent  out  in  April  are   not  invitations;  they  are  more  like  NBA  contracts,  juiced  with  power  and   greed.    The  student  accepts  the  contract,  and  Brown  makes  money.      In  the   short  term,  the  Brown  Corporation  makes  its  earnings  by  inflating  tuition   costs  and  not  adjusting  financial  aid  awards  proportionally;  and  in  the  long   term  by  using  alumni  achievements  to  market  the  Brown  brand.    For  it  is   through  Brown  University,  and  Brown  University  alone,  that  alumni   “discharge  the  offices  of  life  with  usefulness  and  reputation.”    That  is  their   assumption.    

7


Thus for  me,  and  for  so  many  in  Brown’s  community,  it  is  a  simple  reality   that  Brown  University  is  failing  its  students.    It  is  a  simple  reality  that  Brown   fears  liability  more  than  it  fears  the  harm  it  does  to  students  with  mental   health  conditions.    It  is  a  simple  reality  that  in  chasing  the  artificially  scarce   currencies—  renovation,  admission  rates,  endowment  size,  etc.—  of  other   elite  universities  of  the  United  States,  from  Harvard  to  Princeton  from   Stanford  to  Yale,  Brown  denies  the  needs  of  its  students  over  and  again.    It  is   a  simple  reality  that  Brown  is  an  institution  whose  cowardice  makes  it   privilege  liability  over  life,  litigation  over  love.    For  me  and  for  so  many   others,  it  is  a  simple  reality  that  Brown  University  killed  Michael  Dawkins.     Brown  killed  him.    For  when  a  hungry  man  asks  you  for  food,  and  you  say,   “Go  away,”  even  when  you  have  the  food  to  give,  his  death  is  on  your  hands.     Water  cannot  wash  it  away.           with  all  i  can  give  on  this  night  of  all  souls,       okezie  j.  s.  nwọka  ‘10/‘12.5                

8

letter to the brown community on the death of Michael Dawkins '12/'13.5  

letter which holds brown accountable for the death of Michael Dawkins '12/'13.5

letter to the brown community on the death of Michael Dawkins '12/'13.5  

letter which holds brown accountable for the death of Michael Dawkins '12/'13.5

Advertisement