Chronic Illness and Stigma, College

College Applications and Ableism

So it’s that time of year, the time everyone is getting their responses from the colleges they applied to.

For me, this experience was absolutely devastating.

My high school experience was far from perfect. It was riddled with constant absences, a severe car accident, several serious injuries, a surgery with tons of complications, and multiple hospitalizations. Obviously, this has had an impact on my grades.

Don’t get me wrong, my grades never tanked. I took very competitive classes, taking on some of the hardest course loads my school provides (including over ten AP classes), and my GPA is considered “high honours”. I have made seven-semester honour roll and will probably finish out my senior year with eight semester honor roll. I’m in several extra-curriculars and have been recognized for excellence within those as well. I also spend a lot of time volunteering. I’m not a terrible student academically by any means.

But I’m not perfect.

Part of that comes from the experiences I went through. My high school experience isn’t average; most people don’t have the inside of a single ER memorized let alone all the ERs within a ten mile radius, or miss months of school due to a medical problem that got out of control.

So my GPA isn’t perfect. Big whoop.

I did write about my experiences in a very vulnerable essay, hoping that maybe I could explain myself to these universities, but frankly, they did not care. I was still handed rejection after rejection.

Now I’m not stupid. It would be ignorant of me to just assume that my illness was the only reason for a rejection from some of these universities, but I can say right now that it would be ignorant to assume that it wasn’t a factor.

Here’s the issue: in the United States, to prevent any sort of discrimination, colleges are not allowed to ask about illness among other things.

But this is where the struggle comes in: if they don’t know, they don’t understand. An A-average GPA is less impressive from someone who has had a smoother (no high school experience or life experience for that matter is completely smooth) high school experience than someone who has struggled with extraneous circumstances such as illness. It reveals a tenacity, a character trait that would not be obvious otherwise.

Unfortunately, instead of looking at it as a strength and show of perseverance, many colleges see it as a liability. They see it as a red flag for someone who may not be able to commit to four years, or someone who is a “waste of scholarship money”. People with these circumstances are treated almost as time-bombs waiting to explode rather than people who have overcome the impossible, people who have learned that even in failure there is triumph. The reality is anyone can drop out of college and hurt a university’s graduation rate, a number important to these colleges, but by making the assumption that a person who is sick is guaranteed to drop out is a form of ableism that drives me absolutely bonkers.

I was told to not write about my experiences in my college essays, and I contemplated it for a long time, terrified of making a mistake. But I did it anyways. Because guess what? I don’t want to attend a university that supports these ableistic ideals.

I knew I made the right decision when one of my acceptance letters came back. Written on it was a paragraph dedicated to how much my essay had touched the reader. It was eye-opening for me because in a world where I am reduced to a number in the eyes of higher education, someone took the time to understand me as a person: the one thing I so desperately wanted. Needless to say, I committed to this university.

Here is a copy of the letter. The name of the university has been blurred to maintain my privacy.

The stereotypes and stigmas that surround the “spoonie” community makes opening up about personal struggles hard enough as it is, but knowing that you could be potentially punished for it is devastating.

Dealing with rejection is hard: knowing you are getting rejected for something completely out of your control is even harder.

Thankfully it all turned out for the best for me, but this is a clear issue that does not just permeate university, but other aspects of life as well. The work force experiences this as well; it is WAY harder to get hired when you are sick than when you are well, and while the AWDA is amazing, there is still room for discrimination to sneak in.

I just hope that by the time I get to that point, the world will be a different place.

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”



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