By Kaitlyn Stock
Two Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students have won a national grant from AbbVie’s IBD Scholarship Program supported by Crohn’s and Colitis Canada to cover their tuition.
The scholarship aims to help students pay their tuition, “enabling students to spend more time on their studies,” according to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s website. Both winners expressed gratitude towards the grant, saying that one of the biggest challenges of living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is missing school. Crohn’s disease is one of the most common types of IBD in Canada, affecting approximately 1 in every 140 people, according to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.
The illness is chronic and often results in bleeding along the intestinal tract, prolonged periods of inflammation and pain in the abdomen and increased risk of several types of cancer and surgery. No cure has been identified, though people living with the illness may report periods of remission lasting months or years between flare ups. Diagnosis can take months or years.
Adrian Morphy, one of the TMU students awarded the grant, is currently pursuing his masters degree in fine arts in script writing and story design. He said he missed about four months of his senior year of high school due to hospitalizations after learning he had crohn’s disease.
“I actually ended up missing most of that last year of high school,” said Morphy, explaining that he then had to do an additional year to finish his credits. “It also affected my choices of where I wanted to go to university.”
Morphy said winning the grant “alleviates the financial barrier” as a graduate student.
The second TMU grant winner, Ashley Patel, who is currently studying public health and safety, said her crohn’s diagnosis came after years of being misdiagnosed. She’s happy to have the grant, however, she said TMU could do more to support students with IBD, like having more washrooms throughout campus.
“TMU definitely needs better washroom access, especially for people living with chronic disabilities,” said Patel. “You’ve got to have some more [washrooms] that cater to people with disabilities like IBD.”
Despite the lack of enough accessible washrooms throughout campus, Patel said the Academic Accommodation Support (AAS) at TMU has been very supportive and accommodating of her situation if she is unable to attend class due to her IBD.
“If I’m not able to make it to some classes, my notetakers are ready and it was easy to get that accommodation.”
In an emailed statement to The Eyeopener, TMU said “AAS works with students with disabilities and faculty to ensure that these students are able to use their accommodations as needed.”
Margaret Schneider, an associate professor in kinesiology and physical education at Wilfrid Laurier University, has an academic research background in chronic illness and disability and was diagnosed with crohn’s-colitis as a teen. She explained that students with IBD may miss out on more university experiences than just academics.
“Universities allow for academic accommodations for students, something that was not readily available when I was a student,” she said. “There will always be more that can be done, however I think we are on the right track in this country.”
Morphy reported that he has had “overall really positive” experiences getting academic assistance, but since Crohn’s can have long periods of remission, people still have to search for support.
“[You] have to advocate for yourself more, you have to speak up and explain to people your situation because when they look at you, they see you as a healthy person,” said Morphy.