A Threat to Campus? Or a Panic Attack?

Hampshire has kicked a student off campus after it said threats were made and campus safety was in danger. The student’s supporters, noting his autism, say his panic attacks were misinterpreted.

December 13, 2017
 
Cameron Prata
Iris Allen greets protesters outside a disciplinary hearing at Hampshire College.

On Friday evening, Iris Allen found himself homeless.

He had been kicked out of his dorm and ordered off campus following what Hampshire College has called a series of threats. A suspension hearing was scheduled for Monday, but until then, Allen wasn’t allowed on campus.

“Yes, I’ve developed social habits that aren’t acceptable, however, I have autism, and the school never looked in [to it],” Allen said in a video posted online by classmates to raise awareness of his situation. In the video, he was then escorted to a taxi by campus police and taken away. Coming from a background that has included homelessness, Allen had no family to turn to, according to supporters.

Hampshire has said that it removed a student -- without specifying a name, per privacy regulations -- from campus because of “a threat [that] was made to members of our campus community,” according to a message sent out by the administration Monday. Supporters of Allen say that he was unfairly kicked off campus and has since been suspended through the end of the spring semester, for outbursts and panic attacks that were related to his autism, and that those panic attacks did not constitute a threat.

Cameron Prata, a classmate and one of the organizers who have rallied support behind Allen, said that Allen was on the streets over the weekend but he and other supporters have since found a home for him to stay in off campus. The temperature dipped to a low of 29 degrees in Amherst, Mass., on Saturday, according to reports.

As Allen made brief on-campus appearances in suspension hearings held Monday and Tuesday, students gathered to stage sit-ins and rallies. There’s also been an increased police presence on campus this week.

“We understand that some students are upset about actions taken by the college in recent days, but the college makes all appropriate efforts to support and otherwise provide resources to students who need assistance,” Gloria Lopez, dean of students at Hampshire, said in an email sent to students Monday, provided by a campus spokesman. “The college has a process for handling these matters, which involves giving due consideration to all parties concerned. No decisions are made without providing hearings and other protections built into the college’s policies and procedures.”

Supporters of Allen are incredulous.

Prata described a series of events leading up to Allen’s suspension where he was reported to campus authorities for panic attacks or outbursts that occurred on campus and in public. While Allen's outbursts were possibly unnerving to onlookers, he said, they posed no threat.

“They’re making him out to be this criminal person,” Prata told Inside Higher Ed, adding that a suspension that leads to homelessness is “unacceptable.”

“He just wants an education and not to be homeless in the winter weather. There are just basic needs that have not been met and that are being neglected,” Prata said.

Allen was not available for comment.

Organizers have rallied around the hashtag #FreeIris on social media, where attention has focused on whether his autism or the fact that he is black are a factor in his treatment.

Given Allen’s history of homelessness, and, in Allen’s telling in the video, his past with an abusive family life, Prata said that Allen doesn’t have immediate family to turn to. The dorm was his source of stable housing.

“All they can provide me with is a taxi, to send me on my way,” Allen said at the end of the video. “I didn’t even get a chance to eat dinner.”

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