Warning from a Disabled Grad Student

Hi, I’m a disabled graduate student with some advice for any disabled college grad:

Stay away from Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals (EP)!!!

They’ve treated me abysmally. They promise classroom accommodations, then fail to provide. Professors refuse my classroom accommodations, or bully me over them. If I complain, professors tend to retaliate.

I’ve had to drop classes. My GPA has suffered. (This isn’t my first masters degree — I know how to be a student.) Professors have bullied me, made me feel physically threatened. And I’ve had to drop classes because EP hasn’t provided the classroom accommodations they’ve promised.

Adding to the problem, EP professors regularly violate my privacy. My professors believe, wrongly, that they’re free to discuss my disabilities and classroom accommodations during lectures without my consent. My professors have told nearly 70 students that I’m disabled. (My disabilities are largely invisible. They don’t need to tell everyone about them.)

EP is a program for professionals, for people who full-time. Many students in my class work for companies that my company does business with. A few work for my company. So my division outs me as disabled at work on a regular basis.

I’ve explained to EP that these accommodation failures and privacy violations violate Federal law. No appears interested in doing anything.

I’d like to file a Civil Rights complaint about my department through Johns Hopkins, but Hopkins’ own policies prevent me from doing so.

Disabled Hopkin students have to file complaints through Hopkins Disability Services (DS) if they face discrimination or harassment due to disability. DS decides whether or not to forward the case on as a Civil Rights or harassment complaint.

At Johns Hopkins, all Civil Rights complaints are handled by the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). Students who experience racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism and discrimination based on their beliefs can file Civil Rights complaints and have their complaints investigated by a lawyer. Students who who are harassed or treated inappropriately by Hopkins employees can complain in the same way and also have their complaints investigated by a lawyer.

Students who experience discrimination based on their disability status, or who face professors and administrators who violate the ADA or Federal privacy law concerning disability — such students may not file through OIE. We have to file through DS. Then DS decides if the case warrants going through OIE.

I’ve dealt with DS a bit, but I’ve never encountered a lawyer there. They seem to operate on an ad hoc basis without much authority to change anything. (In my experience, they cause more harm than they cure.)

The chance that a disabled student will face discrimination or harassment without a disability component is almost zero, so Hopkins’ rule that all disability complaints go to DS effectively bars disabled students from filing Civil Rights complaints without DS’s permission.

Able-bodied students can file Civil Rights complaints directly. Disabled students must file first to DS, then obtain DS’s permission to file with OIE. Let me say that again: Disabled students at Johns Hopkins University may only file Civil Rights complaints with the university’s permission. Able-bodied students do not need the University’s permission to file.

This is crazy because Federal law treats discrimination on the basis of disability as a Civil Rights violation. Hopkins DS appears to treat it as a kind of protocol violation. They will speak with individual professors, but do nothing about systematic, ongoing problems such as regular failure to implement classroom accommodations, and a tradition of bullying and retaliation.

No one has been able to explain to me why Hopkins treats disability discrimination as a disability issue, and other forms of discrimination as Civil Rights issues, nor why disabled students are the only group effectively barred from filing Civil Rights complaints at the school.

I fear this policy means that Hopkins doesn’t care much about the fate of its disabled students.

I’ve filed complaints through Disability Services (DS) twice in the last year and a half. Their interventions made my problems worse.

Both times the professor went on to talk about my disability accommodations during lecture anyway. I believe both professors went on to retaliate against me for complaining.

Retaliation is hard to prove.

And the people I dealt with in DS didn’t seem to have much of a grasp of the law. And their attitude when professors do things that hurt my is that I need to ignore it and get on with my life.

One of the professors DS worked with to ensure I received the accommodations EP promised acted borderline physically threatening after they worked with him. I was still able to complete and pass the class, even though the professor also withheld classroom accommodations later in the semester and then went on to dock my grade — I believe he did soin anger because I complained to DS about him.

The other professor treated me so oddly in the classroom after DS’s intervention, I had to drop the class.

(Note: DS and EP both have an infuriating habit of taking the professor’s word over mine. If the professor says accommodations are going well, they’ll assume everything is fine. My assessment of my own experiences doesn’t matter to them. Neither of the times I dealt with DS did they check up on me to make sure things went well.)

I dealt with DS back in 2016. Emily Lucio simply urged me to forgive the administrator who screwed up my classroom accommodations and gave the professor medical information without my consent. Her attitude was there was nothing to be done. I didn’t agree, but at least she didn’t make matters worse. She left a few years ago.

The two DS people I’ve dealt with recently are Cathie Axe and Aaron Hodukavich. If either takes an interest in you, run away. Ghost them. Block their emails and say your account was hacked. Don’t let them get involved if you value your career as a student.

If Axe or Hodukavich gets involved, you’re screwed.

I can’t leave my program. My GPA is too trashed to apply elsewhere. So I stay and finish, or give up on doing a masters in computer science.

Sometimes I write bitchy emails. Sometimes these even help. I realized several years ago that being polite as a disabled student in EP meant everyone violated my rights. So I shoved aside my Christian beliefs and went full-on bitch.

I don’t like being mean. It’s undignified, and I sometimes worry about the feelings of the people on the other end. This puts me in the ethical bind of worrying about the feelings of people who are hurting me. I have no way to hold them accountable for their actions, and they have no inclination to stop hurting me unless I’m mean and scary.

The only way forward I see is to self-pay for the accommodations Hopkins EP promises.

So I’ll arrange my own human live-captioner for the first few lectures, until Hopkins can get its act together to bring in its own. If the instructor assigns uncaptioned audio, I’ll pay to have it captioned that evening, instead of waiting several days (or weeks) for Hopkins EP to come through. If I don’t get part or all of a lecture because the instruction didn’t face forward or didn’t use the streaming mic, I’ll download the class slide-deck and pay a tutor.

I figure that, with $1,200 -$1,500 extra per class, I can solve enough of my problems to get through the program.

Tuition for my classes is already $4,500 per class. But in the long run, that extra $1,500 will save me money because I’ll drop fewer classes, and get my degree sooner. And once I have my degree, my salary will go up.

It will be tight, but I make enough to afford it.

So if you’re disabled, stay away from Hopkins Engineering for Professionals. Yes, they’re one of the most highly respected engineering programs in Maryland and a Hopkins engineering degree essentially guarantees you a good job and a salary that’s at least middle-class.

But if you depend on classroom accommodations, I believe you’re likely to find the program wastes your time, money, and is a huge emotional drain. If you’re experience is like mine, you’ll face harassment, retaliation and it will be very hard to complete the program. Your time in EP will trash you GPA, so you can’t transfer.

It’s been a soul-sucking, life-draining experience. I’ve missed vacations and time with my family because I’ve stayed up late for nights on end, trying to catch because I fell behind when I didn’t receive the captioned audio I needed, or because I really didn’t understand the lecture because the professor wouldn’t face forward. I’m not young anymore. All those nights staying up late are having an impact on my health — some of my blood numbers now don’t look so good.

I have to stay in because I need the degree, but I would have been much better off taking a quick-and-easy degree with a shady, for-profit school than going to Johns Hopkins.

So be warned. If you’re blind, hard-of-hearing, have ADHD or autism, don’t go to Hopkins EP. If you need time off from classes or extensions on assignments because you’re undergoing chemo or need infusions for a chronic disease, look elsewhere.

If you believe in social justice, this is definitely not your school. Finally, if you believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one who leads the lost, who overturned the tables in the temple, avoid Johns Hopkins EP.