Justin Oo | The Poly Post

Under lock and key: How Cal Poly Pomona treats mental illness

By Renee Walker, Feb. 22, 2022

There is nothing worse than hitting rock bottom only to find out that there are a few more feet left to fall. You are drained and exhausted. There is this gaping hole that creates a home in your abdomen, and you wonder if this is how it is always going to be. You figure that the only way to go is up, so you confide in a trusted individual hoping that the university you gave your all to would reciprocate that same behavior.

Instead, I was met with allegations and handcuffs. I was met with the same flashing lights that plague little Black boys’ nightmares. Anxiety built skyscrapers in my throat. I did not remember it being this hard to say, “yes officer.” Cal Poly Pomona’s University Police Department stuffed me in the car like how they stuffed their prejudice in their back pockets—bitterly. My friends searched the campus for me as I wondered if I was going to make it home that night; I did not.

I have been diagnosed with severe depression for seven years. I have self-harmed—five years clean—and I have pushed away so many people in the process. Although I have learned from those missteps, it does not mean that every day is a walk in the park, and it does not mean that everyone knows how to handle or treat a depressive episode.

Justin Oo | The Poly Post

Nov. 6, 2019: I was in Building 1. A few days prior I decided to practice a healthy coping mechanism by confiding in a Cal Poly Pomona staff member that I held great trust in. I was going through a hard time. My courses were more challenging than ever and I isolated myself from my support group. I felt helpless, like there was nowhere left to go. She asked for Cal Poly Pomona’s Counseling and Psychological Services to conduct a wellness check. A wellness check is a resource provided by CAPS’ Behavioral Intervention Team. When a wellness check is called in, a member from CAPS reaches out to the student in need and offers support through campus resources and connections.

I did not get that luxury. Instead, I was met inside of Building 1 by Cal Poly Pomona’s University Police Department.

“Can we talk to you outside?” the first officer asked.

I contemplated running, but where could I go? There was nothing but bad decisions circling my mind. In hindsight, I wish I could have stood my ground.

I followed them out of the building to see a squad car parked right outside of the door. While one officer talked to me, the other took hold of all my belongings. The last object they retrieved was my phone.

“Do you know anyone’s number by heart?” the same officer asked.

After I responded by saying that I knew my mother’s number, he then placed the phone back in my hand and demanded that I turn it off.

He followed up by saying that I was not under arrest, while simultaneously placing my arms behind my back to cuff my hands together. Students were traveling in between classes and socializing outside near the Bronco shuttle stop. I always tried to imagine what they thought of me at that moment. Was I a criminal? Did I assault a student? Did I carry drugs?

They would never know.

I was told that I would be going to Aurora Charter Oak Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in West Covina, California, to take a quick assessment, and that after I would be escorted back to campus.

I never made it back to campus that day. The officers left me at Aurora Hospital with no communication to my family of my whereabouts. I was off the grid for three hours straight. After a couple calls to her phone from an unknown number, I finally contacted my mother. By then, the nurse alerted us that it was too late. My mother yelled and threw a fit, but UPD secretly put me on a 72-hour hold.

The first night was the worst. I had everything taken away from me: piercings, shoestrings, and clothing. My roommate that night was an older woman suffering from borderline personality disorder, and she was violent. It was safe to say that I did not get to sleep that night.

The next two days went by in a blur of tears and pleads to go home. My family would hear the staff discuss my presence as they came to visit. The nurses would echo, “She’s not supposed to be here,” and “They f-ed up.”

I started to learn that CPP “f-ed up” a lot as I met another CPP student who was admitted only a few hours before me. She claimed that CAPS lied in her report.

After I was discharged, my mother and I immediately scheduled an appointment to meet with Cal Poly Pomona President, Soraya Coley. My mother expressed her concerns, and I expressed the new trauma that was gained from my previous experience.

What was Coley’s response? To give me a book. According to her, the humiliation from being handcuffed in public to the trauma of being held against my will in a mental institution, where the staff acknowledged UPD’s mistake all amounts to, “You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life,” by Jen Sincero.

Do you know what the kicker is? CPP advertises CAPS as, “a culturally diverse group of highly qualified mental health professionals including licensed doctoral-level psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists and a wellbeing coach.”

I have never seen such a culturally diverse university resource that lacks African American representation.

There is no safe space at Cal Poly Pomona for depressed Black students. There is no safe space at Cal Poly Pomona for Black students at all.

We addressed Coley and UPD during the town halls that were hosted by ASI and the university, but we were awarded no answers. I was awarded nothing but empty promises and the guarantee that my experience would stay under lock and key. I think it’s time I open Pandora’s box to see what Cal Poly Pomona has to say for themselves.