Editor’s note: The student in this story uses singular they/them/theirs gender pronouns.
At 12:05 p.m. on Friday, March 9, Portland State student Ullahushi Lovsness, 23, woke up to a loud knock on their door in the Broadway Residence Hall. Still in a fog from taking a nap, Lovsness rushed to put on a jacket to cover their leisure clothes and opened the door. They were greeted by a Campus Public Safety Officer, a Portland Police officer, two American Medical Response EMTs and a Resident Adviser.
“Oh God,” Lovsness recounted thinking. “Someone has overreacted.”
CPSO officer David Troppe told Lovsness someone had called PPB to request a welfare check and the responders were concerned Lovsness was planning to commit suicide. Lovsness described Troppe wandering through their dorm apartment, asking if a calligraphy Lorde quote was Lovsness’ suicide note and if Lovsness planned to cut themself with a kitchen knife they used earlier that morning to open their mail.
According to Lovsness, EMTs questioned them while they sat in a chair in the corner of their room. When Lovsness refused to board the ambulance to go to the hospital, the EMTs administered a shot of Versed, a drug used for anesthesia and sedation.
Lovsness woke up in the Oregon Health and Sciences emergency department six hours later.
They were discharged that evening. The discharge papers read, “We saw you today for your thoughts of self harm. You are well connected in the community and have good insight about your mood. We would encourage you to continue reaching out to friends and family.”
However, Lovsness and their family claim university officials pressured Lovsness to leave the university two days later.
More than mental illness
Ullahushi, which means sun child in the Choctaw language, is a psychology major and Beekeeping Leadership Fellow with PSU’s Student Sustainability Center. They can point out any type of bee on campus, and when they talk about bees and gardening, their face lights up.
But Lovsness’ real passion is mental health advocacy. They hope to go into counseling in the future, along with building relationships with Elders in the Choctaw Nation. “I want to [be a mental health advocate] in a culturally sustainable way,” Lovsness said. “There’s a lot of ancestral healing that needs to be done with Indigenous communities.”
Lovsness, however, is no stranger to mental health issues themself. They said they’ve experienced abuse and trauma throughout their life, including rape. Lovsness attempted suicide November 2017 and was hospitalized for a short time before returning to school. At the time, Lovsness said their psychiatrist encouraged them to return to the structure and support system they have at PSU.
In March 2018, Lovsness had just broken up with their partner of seven years. They said the relationship turned abusive toward the end. Lovsness’ said their first thought after the breakup was “Oh no, I don’t want this to affect my mental health.”
Lovsness said on the morning of March 9 they were feeling particularly anxious and depressed after speaking with their ex-partner. Using the coping tactics they learned during their last hospitalization, Lovsness spoke with their mother, uncle and friends for several hours.
Then—as confirmed by the AMR report—Lovsness took a dose of their prescribed Ativan, an extra dose of Seroquel—an antidepressant with sedating effects that Lovsness’ mother said they have doctor’s permission to take an extra dose of as needed—and some DayQuil to help with congestion. Lovsness said they fell asleep around 10 a.m.
The police encounter leading up to the hospitalization was traumatic, Lovsness recounted. Lovsness claimed they requested a female officer or medic while being apprehended in their room and requested to go to the Unity Center for Behavioral Health—an emergency room specifically for psychiatric services—instead of the ER. Responders refused both requests.
In a separate interview with Lovsness’ parents, Ginger Lovsness said she confirmed from Unity that none of the responders called to see if there was space at the facility to bring Lovsness in.
Additionally, Lovness insisted and maintained they were not suicidal. They said they admitted to responders that they experience passive suicidal ideation, which they said “means those thoughts happen. My norm used to be this very suicidal, self-hating person, and my treatment is getting myself out of those negative thought processes.”
Lovsness said they think the EMTs and Officer Troppe may not have known the difference between active and passive suicidal ideation. “I, like an idiot,” Lovsness said, “because I just think people aren’t going to screw you over, I [told responders] ‘well yeah, I’ve thought about it.’”
However, both they and their family agree the situation should not have escalated to the point of forced sedation and hospitalization on a police hold.
Parents feel manipulated after CARE team meeting
Lovsness’ parents said they drove all night from Redmond, Ore. to Portland when they got word Lovsness was in the hospital. Right away, Ed Lovsness said he requested a meeting with Assistant Dean of Student Life & Director of Conduct Dana Walton-Macaulay and “whoever was in charge of the incident.”
Walton-Macaulay agreed to meet with Lovsness’ parents alongside then-CPSO Lieutenant Vince Elmore. However, on the morning of Monday, March 12, when Ginger and Ed went to the DOSL office, they were met with a panel of seven people.
The meeting was run by the Coordination Assessment Response Education team, which, according to CARE team Case Manager Brian Paez, “meets once a week to discuss some of the high-level cases that are impacting students on campus.”
Those in attendance, according to an email Dean of Student Life Michele Toppe sent Ginger on March 15, included only six people: Toppe, Paez, Elmore, Walton-Macaulay, Executive Director of Student Health and Counseling Center Dana Tasson and Director of University Housing and Residence Life Michael Walsh.
However, both Ed and Ginger insist there was another man present who said he was a doctor not affiliated with PSU. They described the person as a tall white male in his 50’s with balding white hair, wearing a light blue button-down shirt with white stripes.
No person on Toppe’s list matches the description provided by Ed and Ginger. In a May 24 interview with Walton-Macaulay and Paez, both insisted they would never bring an outside doctor to a CARE team meeting.
“That person doesn’t have a relationship with the student,” Walton-Macaulay said. “So I don’t think that’s something that we would do.”
Ed and Ginger described the meeting as intimidating. The parents had never met with the CARE team before, not even when Lovsness completed inpatient treatment the term before.
For the first 15 minutes, according to Ed, the group discussed what happened before Lovsness was taken to the ER. Ed said Elmore insisted Lovsness never asked to be taken to Unity, which Ed found wasn’t the case when he reviewed Officer Troppe’s bodycam video a month later.
Ed said he questioned the team on why Lovsness was sedated in the first place. He said Elmore claimed Lovsness kicked an AMR responder and told Ed he was lucky the EMTs didn’t press assault charges. When Ed asked Elmore “Was that before or after [Lovsness was] stabbed [with Versed]?”, the room, including Elmore, fell silent.
Ginger said a friend who works in the medical field looked at Lovsness’ puncture on their right arm and “saw the white ring around the puncture and said that was done with a lot of force. She felt the injury and felt a knot underneath and said this was not properly done.”
Ed, who works as a correctional officer, said if he had administered a sedative to an inmate who did not pose an immediate threat, he would lose his job, and the sergeant in charge would be demoted.
After the room fell silent, Ed said the CARE team conversation took a turn. He said Macaulay and Elmore asked Ed and Ginger why Lovsness was enrolled at PSU and suggested taking Lovsness home for the rest of the term or have Lovsness do a full medical withdrawal.
Ginger said the man they can’t identify misgendered Lovsness and said, “If it was my daughter, I’d take her home right now.” Both Ed and Ginger recounted Toppe saying “PSU is a place for learning that houses students, not a mental health facility.”
Both parents said no amount of explaining would convince the panel that Lovsness was not having a mental health crisis. In their hotel room after the CARE team meeting, Ed recounted thinking “[This meeting] was not what we asked for.”
“It was my bad because it took me 24 hours to realize ‘Wait a minute. They’re manipulating us,’” he said. “Their agenda was to get this problem person out of PSU.”
Conduct investigation, discrimination complaint and legal action
Lovsness said they were in class during most of the CARE team meeting but arrived at the DOSL office 45 minutes in. Ginger said she retrieved Lovsness from the waiting area and brought them to the conference room, but the group allegedly said Lovsness couldn’t be present.
After Lovsness and their parents took a lunch break, Lovsness and their mother met with Walton-Macaulay and Elmore. During this meeting, both Ginger and Lovsness said Walton-Macaulay asked Lovsness to sign a release of information form so they could review their records from both SHAC and Lovsness’ outside psychiatrist.
Both Lovsness and Ginger recalled feeling numb at this point. Lovsness said they signed an ROI for SHAC, but claimed when Walton-Macaulay was told the outside psychiatrist would need to supply their own ROI, Walton-Macaulay exclaimed “Shit!”
The DOSL office and CARE team cannot discuss students without written permission, but when asked if the DOSL office or CARE team ever request ROI’s from the student, both Walton-Macaulay and Paez said they only do when a student requests it first.
“[We don’t request] psychiatric history and things like that,” Walton-Macaulay said. “And we typically don’t request documents. We receive information that students or community members may present to us but, that process is a student-driven transaction.”
Ginger and Lovsness maintain they were pressured into signing the ROI. Later that evening, Lovsness and Ginger decided to go back to the DOSL office the next day and rescind the ROI.
A few days later, Lovsness went to register for spring classes but found a hold on their account. They received a letter in their email saying they were under a Code of Student Conduct and Responsibility investigation for “[allegedly refusing] to leave a meeting of the CARE team when requested to by members of the team (who are university officials) and the next day came into the DOSL office and refused to wait as requested, disrupting a meeting with another student.”
The letter does not clarify that the CARE team meeting was Lovsness’ own. Additionally, on Tuesday, March 13, when Ginger and Lovsness went back to rescind the ROI, Ginger contended she—not Lovsness—interrupted a DOSL staff member who was talking quietly to the secretary, who happened to be a student employee.
“I was retaliated against,” Lovsness said.
Lovsness has since filed a disability discrimination complaint against Toppe and Walton-Macaulay with Deputy Title IX Coordinator Yesenia Gutierrez and an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint with the Department of Justice. Because the investigations are ongoing, Lovsness’ conduct hearing is postponed indefinitely.
Mental health and university liability
“The conversation felt like they’re more concerned about [PSU’s] liability than the health of the student,” Ed said.
“They want to say it’s for the health of the student, but it’s not,” he continued. “Because if it were, then they would understand [going to college] is their recovery.”
According to Justice Robert H. Jackson Legal Fellow Adam Goldstein of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, universities have felt pressure in recent years to protect themselves legally when students on campus are experiencing mental health issues.
Goldstein said a few universities have been sued because the plaintiffs argued the schools didn’t do enough to help students that were at risk for suicide.
“This is where I think colleges are over-correcting, maybe.” Goldstein said. “Somebody does something that could, hypothetically, eventually set off the dominoes that lead to self-harm, and therefore, we’re going to lean as hard as we can on the family to withdraw them.”
If everything Lovsness and their parents claimed happened is true, Goldstein said he believes PSU is more focused on its liability than on Lovsness’ health. “There’s other things they could do that would be just as protective of student safety,” Goldstein said, “and more protective of student privacy,” including speaking with Lovsness directly before involving a team of people or outside doctors.
“The best thing [legally] for every institution would be if every student who thought about self-harm left before they did it,” Goldstein continued. “Is that the best thing for the student? Most certainly not.”
Taking legal action against PSU
Lovsness’ parents said they are speaking with lawyers to address how Lovsness was allegedly treated, but no one will consider representing them until they have CPSO’s bodycam video. The family was able to view the video in the GDI office after Lovsness filed a discrimination complaint, but they must file a public records request to have the video in their possession. The PSU Public Records Department told Lovsness they should have the video by the beginning of June.
CPSO could not be reached for an interview after several attempts. Elmore no longer appears on CPSO’s staff list, but CPSO Chief Donnell Tanksley said he could not say why because he cannot disclose personnel matters.
Ed said he doesn’t want to make Lovsness’ life any harder by seeking legal action, but Lovsness said they are determined not to stay quiet about what happened.
Lovsness said they believe CPSO helped escalate the situation. Luvsness continued, “Escalation endangers everyone. It’s concerning that the individuals who are supposed to be protecting people’s safety are the ones that choose to escalate.”
“[PSU has] done a lot to me, and I have no idea if I can get justice,” Lovsness added. “But the best thing I can do is stay vocal and visible so that people become aware, and then also people don’t feel like they’re alone.”