Dawodu: I was dismissed from NU for bad grades. The University needs to prioritize mental health

Zai Dawodu, Op-Ed Contributor

Content warning: This story contains mention of suicidal ideation.

I’m really not a fan of lying, so having to lie for so long has been difficult. Nevertheless, it’s time I just said it: I wasn’t here Fall Quarter of sophomore year because I was dismissed for bad grades. It’s not that I hated school or couldn’t manage it. I was in no mental space to start college when I did.

The stigma around mental health, including my own judgments, has prevented me from finally admitting to myself how much I was struggling. I wasn’t stupid — I was a teenager going through “unprecedented times.” I was also dealing with undiagnosed ADHD, which led to crippling depression and anxiety.

It’s taken me almost two years to admit it because I was so embarrassed. On the other hand, keeping it to myself hasn’t been any better. I am continuously anxious from lying to some of my closest friends about freshman year — one of the worst years of my life — and why I wasn’t on campus Fall Quarter.

I thought, “Does anyone want to be friends with someone who was kicked out? Will people think I’m stupid? Do I deserve to be here?” This is why I decided to make it a public declaration.

I’ve decided I’m no longer worried about what others think about me. I’m not worried about what they think happened. I’m long past that now. I’ve spent the last year working on myself with help from my therapist and family, and I have empowered myself to overcome feeling like I wasn’t even worthy of being alive. The constant sense of hopelessness that used to follow me around is gone. I’m doing so much better now, which is why I can finally talk about it, but now I wish I had been able to address more of my personal issues before hitting rock bottom.

The stigma around mental health, especially for people of color, is extremely detrimental. My mom always told me, “Black women can’t have any extra problems because they’re always looking for something to tear us down.” This kind of pressure is what pushed me away from accepting the severity of my situation and that I needed help.

Lots of people, including myself, never realize how many other people are in the same situation. Freshman year, I felt like I was the only person suffering, only to come back to campus and hear that so many other students faced what I faced — felt what I felt. There’s no reason for anyone to suffer alone.

Northwestern is a difficult school and takes a toll on so many students. When a mental health crisis on campus arises, some people are shocked, but most are not surprised. The University rarely communicates different resources they offer to students, other than Counseling and Psychological Services  — which has been historically unreliable

NU has hundreds of resources for students, such as those compiled by the Associated Student Government, but most of us are left in the dark, not knowing they even exist. So, many students can’t help feeling like there’s no way to prioritize their mental health because the University doesn’t. Being academically or professionally successful just isn’t worth it at the cost of worsening mental health.

Writing this has been so freeing.

I’m not looking for any pity. I’m not asking for affirmation — “You’re so brave! You’re so smart! You deserve to be here!” I have already learned that. I just want more students to grow and find the confidence and support I found. There is a whole community of people on this campus going through something similar to you.

Zai Dawodu is a Communication junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.