Name of Innovative Program:
Users and Survivors in Academia: Discrimination in Higher Education
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
Email Address of Innovative Program Lead:
The Discrimination in Higher Education (DHE) Project is a peer-led project that invites individuals to share their stories of discrimination in institutions of higher education. Students with psychiatric disabilities/experiences are forced to withdraw from school, banned from campuses/dormitories, and denied admission to academic programs — yet their voices remain unheard. The Lived Experience Research Network develops the DHE project by surveying these students about their experiences, as well as utilizing the Users & Survivors in Academia network (three online mutual support groups for undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students with lived experience of psychiatric disabilities). With the input of those students, the DHE workgroup engages in systems advocacy to address pervasive discrimination, stigma, and civil rights violations within higher education settings, focusing on graduate students. With funding, we can collect data and build an evidence-base to inform systems change. In doing so, LERN provides a much needed resource to unify the voices of marginalized students across the US and Canada. Through our unified voice, we advocate for and with students whose stories reflect the devastating impact of stigma and discrimination.
Creativity and Innovation:
LERN, only recently incorporated and given public charity status in July of 2013, is currently the only US-based national higher education-focused organization run by and for graduate students and emerging researchers with lived experience of psychiatric disability. LERN has been quite successful to-date in organizing students and young professionals to address an end to discrimination on the basis of psychiatric disability on a national level. Using grassroots support networks to inform advocacy and research initiatives, LERN is entirely operated and maintained by those who identify as consumers/psychiatric survivors. Initiatives include Users & Survivors in Academia, the DHE project, and many others. The DHE particularly aims to challenge stigma in institutions of higher education, which is central to LERN’s mission and purpose. LERN provides a venue for independently-funded, self-directed student projects through which we can build leadership capacity – including 13 staff and Network Members from nine states.
LERN advances social justice by promoting leadership and inclusion in behavioral health and disabilities research, advanced clinical practice, and program evaluation by people with lived experience of behavioral health systems. In this vision, we are the embodiment of inclusion, managed and directed by people with psychiatric disabilities/histories. LERN's vision for organizational management and operations is to share in decision-making, collaborate, and promote equality of opportunity and engagement. Each of our projects, and particularly the Discrimination in Higher Education project, provides direction and encouragement for the inclusion of consumer/psychiatric survivor in research and practice. LERN has been invited by organizations and government officials to share our model of leadership and inclusion to emulate our vision. We actively encourage alternative perspectives in research and advocacy to advance equitable policies and practices.
The Scattergood Foundation Award would be immediately matched by a grant from the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care, doubling the funding for the DHE project that this award would provide. This project has a strong foundation of organizational support because it is central to LERN’s mission of opposing and overcoming discrimination against people with psychiatric disabilities/histories in education, research, and clinical practice. With project leadership already in place and the direct participation of over 75 informed, enthusiastic individuals in our Users and Survivors in Academia networks, we would solidify our project’s inclusiveness with a broad range of grassroots partnerships. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and Temple Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities have stated interest in collaboration on this project. Having received significant support and interest from individuals and organizations alike, our Discrimination in Higher Education project is both sustainable and collaborative.
Users & Survivors in Academia and the DHE project are inextricably linked, since the DHE -- like all of LERN’s projects -- thrives on buy-in and input from the community. Both the Discrimination in Higher Education project and the Users & Survivors in Academia network are easily replicable. For example, utilizing online software for these projects increases the feasibility of replication. The same target population exists in many countries, so although the laws and supports vary, this project benefits international partners attempting to change disability laws worldwide. It is a simple, yet innovative, advocacy program that gathers grassroots support and invites marginalized individuals to tell their stories. These stories can tangibly change communities and governments alike. Transferring our advocacy and research model would benefit people with psychiatric disabilities across all borders by improving civil rights.
The current DHE project is a qualitative, web-based survey that allows people to share their narratives about their lived experience. Despite being unfunded, our recently launched survey has received over 30 submissions. Project data will inform a model policy that can be disseminated to universities and student-activists. We aim for university policies and practices become more inclusive. Interrelated with institutional-level inclusiveness is the number and intensity of student participation in mutual support and activism, as is done through Users & Survivors in Academia. From the DHE project we hope to develop quantitative survey measures that can be used nationwide to assess the incidence and experience of discrimination, and track changes over time. Publication and dissemination of results, advocacy efforts stemming from the project, the development of model policies, and implementation of equitable practices are central measures of the project’s success.