Jennifer Burbella is suing Misericordia University for not providing her with the help she needed to pass.
I'm going to be honest. I didn't know if I wanted to post this story. I don't agree with what this woman is doing, but I also don't want her to be subjected to the Internet's wrath.
Until recently, Jennifer Burbella was a nursing student at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania. She is a sufferer of disabilities including anxiety, depression, and stress. Because of that, she asked her school for special accommodations, including extra time during exams, and the ability to communicate with her professor. The school didn't provide her with those aids, and she failed a required course twice. Now, she's suing. Her lawyer, an education specialist named Harry McGrath, told WNEP:
“She has some disabilities and under section 504 of The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973, you can make certain accommodations, not only in educational setting, but in the workplace, et cetera."
Burbella and McGrath claim that the school's failure to assist her is a violation of the law. The suit claims that Burbella attempted to call her professor during the exam, but when she got no answer, a witness saw her crying openly in the classroom. The pair are seeking more than $75,000 in damages, although her lawyer claims what she really wants is to retake the exam with the aids she feels would give her a fair chance:
“She's not looking for the university to ordain that she get this degree, she's looking for a fair opportunity, which the statute provides, to take the exam. If she fails it that's her own problem and she has to deal with it."
However, seeing as Burbella is no longer a student as Misericordia, that doesn't seem likely.
Jennifer Burbella (via WNEP)
This brings me to why I feel so conflicted about this story. I also suffer from anxiety and depression, which affected me in a profoundly negative way during my time in higher education. Many people experience their first major depressive episode when they leave home and face the pressures of a university program. These people feel most alone at a time when more is expected of them than ever before.
At the same time, I can't possibly support Jennifer Burbella's lawsuit. Although her disabilities are real and deserve consideration, I don't see how extra time or private consultation during an exam give her anything but an unfair advantage. Many schools do provide free mental health programs for students – some were extremely helpful to me at that time in my life. But the kinds of accommodations she asked for are much more appropriate for students suffering from dyslexia or other learning disabilities, not the disabilities she lists.
At the same time, I would be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt if not for two ways in which she damaged her credibility. One, she asked for money. A lot of money. I understand that if she failed out of the university for reasons she felt were unfair, she would feel she was entitled to be reimbursed for her tuition, but that's only relevant if she has no plans to reenroll at the school. That's not what her attorney is saying.
More importantly, she was in a nursing program. As her attorney said, many people suffering from her same conditions become successful doctors and nurses, but not because they were given extra time to finish exams. If she isn't held to the same standard, it does a disservice to her future patients. Working under strict time constraints is a huge part of being a medical professional. The only difference is that there are lives at stake, not grades.
If you've read this far into my rant, thank you. It's really my hope that nobody who reads this article will rip into Jennifer Burbella with the vicious self-righteousness that the Internet is known for, but I'm not too hopeful. I'm sure people will say she's actually fine and that her condition is made up, which is deeply offensive to me and all other people like myself. Depressed people spend their whole lives hearing that they should just suck it up and be happy like everyone else, which flies in the face of all medical and psychiatric research. Neither I nor anybody reading this knows Ms. Burbella or what she has to deal with. And even if she were faking it, remember that she's a young woman who has just been denied her dream in life, which is to help people. So look at yourself before taking potshots at her.