Months after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pledged to improve its treatment of veterans, disabled student veteran Jeremy Rawls is hoping his college might do the same.
Since February, the rising senior at Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss. has struggled to maintain good grades and reclaim his work-study position after MC administrators allegedly suspended him and labeled him a threat to himself and other students.
In an exclusive interview with Campus Reform, the former active-duty Marine who served two combat tours in Iraq said his suspension came after he requested to meet with a different counselor in the school’s Office of Counseling and Disability Services. Rawls, who is diagnosed with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was originally paired with a female counselor who wore traditional Muslim dress during his initial visit to the office.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to participate… I didn’t want to traumatize her and it wasn’t a good environment to be talking about [my disabilities] with that specific person,” Rawls said.
Rawls’s original reason for visiting the school’s counseling office was to pick up paperwork intended for his professors, a task that had been delayed because of a lengthy recovery from knee surgery.
“Every semester I have to identify with the school as disabled and they give me letters to give to my professors,” Rawls explained. “This semester I had a surgery at the beginning which caused some issues in getting some letters.”
According to Rawls, his attempts to meet with staff members to discuss the school’s policy about changing counselors were repeatedly ignored and it wasn’t until a recent meeting with administrators that he was able to speak with staff.
“Their response was suspending me pending a mental evaluation which I provided and then they put me on further restriction and a reintegration program,” Rawls said.
In an email notifying Rawls of his suspension, Associate Dean of Students Jonathan Ambrose said administrators and the Student Intervention Team have a “due diligence in not only the protection of yourself, but also the campus community as a whole from potential harm or the threat there of.”
“You are not permitted to be on campus for any reason or attend class during the duration of the Interim Suspension unless you have written permission,” states an email sent to Rawls on Feb. 26 and later obtained by Campus Reform.
“To have been a marine and to tell us we’re a threat…that’s actually a compliment,” said Rawls. “But telling me I’m a threat to others was extremely offensive.”
According to Rawls, who is pursuing a degree in English with a minor in education, the school never spoke with “a single professor” about his grades or behavior prior to suspending and subsequently removing him from a work-study position which he’d procured through the local VA.
On March 16, Rawls was notified of his permission to reintegrate back into academics after fulfilling the school’s request for an independent mental evaluation.
“At this time, you are only allowed integration back into academics, meaning: attending class, lectures, or any other academic related matter that is pertinent to a class or graded assignment,” Ambrose wrote in a second email to the student veteran.
Read more: campusreform.org