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Umpqua Community College as seen in September 2016.

Kaylyn Willis knew she wanted to be a nurse from the time she was 9 years old, and she is willing to take Umpqua Community College to federal court to get that opportunity.

UCC expelled Willis in February. The final straw for the college was a homework assignment Willis turned in, which was deemed “dishonest, disrespectful, or disruptive” by college administrators.

During a winter-term course called Chronic I, taught by Patrick Harris, students were asked to create weekly posts from the perspective of a person suffering from a chronic disease or disorder. In week 6, the prompt was to imagine what would happen if a person’s support system would disappear due to death, divorce or deployment/relocation.

Willis wrote a scenario in which she took on the perspective of someone with ALS who had killed their husband and was now imprisoned.

According to a grievance panel, made up of a student representative, a faculty representative, an administrator representative and a classified staff member representative, the post did not take into account the community as a result of the Oct. 1, 2015, massacre that occurred on the Umpqua Community College campus.

When Willis received a zero on the assignment she emailed her instructor. That night she received an email from college officials requesting a meeting the next day, during which she was informed that she would be dismissed from the nursing program as this was her second behavioral offense and grounds for dismissal.

“Despite all chances Ms. Willis had been given to succeed, and the warning to behave professionally for the remainder of the academic program, Ms. (April) Myler (chair of health and emergency services) concluded that Ms. Willis had demonstrated an overall pattern of acting like she did not have to comply with the rules of the Nursing Program, which was unacceptable under the professional standards,” Dee Rubanoff, a lawyer representing Umpqua Community College, wrote on Sept. 1 in response to a request to overturn the decision.

Willis said she’s getting ready to fight to make her dream come true.

“I knew, ultimately, that my goal was going to be to make a federal case out of this,” she said. “That’s how strongly I feel about it, and how much has been taken from me.”

Willis has exhausted all of her options to appeal the decision at the local level. Her latest request, with the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, to get the college to reverse its decision was refused on Sept. 1.

“UCC punished Willis for submitting a story that met all the criteria,” said FIRE Program Officer Anne Marie Tamburro in a press release. “They asked her to use her imagination, then wrote off her response as a joke and kicked her out. It takes imagination to write a story about a sensitive topic, but it takes no imagination to trample someone’s rights.”

UCC President Rachel Pokrandt said she could not talk in detail about an individual student, but said the college is proud of its nursing program which boasts a 90% pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination and sees 95% of its graduates employed in the nursing profession.

In the past five years, between fall term 2016 and spring term 2021, nine of the 295 enrolled students were dismissed from the program for behavioral issues.

A dismissal from the nursing program does not automatically exclude them from non-nursing program classes at Umpqua Community College. However, expulsion from the nursing program does mean a student cannot seek admission to any other Oregon Consortium Nursing Education.

Timeline

Willis was inspired to become a nurse by watching her aunt, who was a labor and delivery nurse.

“I was just fascinated by it,” Willis said. “Fascinated. By the time I was nine, maybe 10, years old, I knew — and actually up until I started the program — that I was going to be a labor and delivery nurse. It’s where I belong.”

In the fall of 2019, Willis enrolled in the nursing program, but failed to pass a necessary exam after the first term and was unable to continue in the program despite having an 89% in the class.

When she started the nursing program, Willis also started working at CHI Mercy Medical hospital’s emergency room where she fell in love with emergency medicine.

“Emergency medicine, that’s my jam,” Willis said. “And that was my goal. I was working in the ER, I was going to UCC, and as far as I knew I was going to work at Mercy’s ER until I retired. I have it all in my head, it was all planned out.”

Willis was determined to get her degree and re-enrolled in the nursing program in the fall of 2020.

As part of the nursing program students have to submit to urine analysis. The day the sample was due, Willis was fired from her job at the hospital for “racially insensitive behavior,” according to Rubanoff.

Willis said she was fired for recording videos in the ER in April 2020 that were uploaded to the social media site TikTok. One of those videos contained language that was deemed offensive by hospital administrators and another featured someone who had not given consent to be in the video.

Not only did Willis lose her job, but she also lost her clinical placement which she needed to fulfill the requirements to obtain her nursing degree.

This resulted in a “Student in Danger of Failing and ‘first and final’ behavioral strike on Willis’ record in October 2020. She was at that point informed that she could not get any additional behavioral strikes or she would be removed from the program.

Willis also had to submit a “Plan for Success.” She missed the deadline for this and in early November, Willis met with Myler to discuss the missed deadline, as well as new complaints made by two different professors.

She was given a warning and had to write another plan, which Willis submitted on time.

One complaint was about a post Willis made referring to an “epic lady wedgie,” which was found to be unprofessional by Myler. Willis said it’s a reference to a skit from the television program Saturday Night Live.

Then the post about shooting her husband was made in her Chronic I course, which according to the grievance panel “failed to take into consideration the events of UCC’s past and the impact her post could have” as they refer to the massacre that took place on Oct. 1, 2015.

Willis said deeming her submission disrespectful to those is subjective. Another student wrote about her caregiver dying in a car crash which Willis said could also be seen as disrespectful to people who have lost someone in that way.

“Just because you have a personal reaction to it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong,” Willis said. “I just don’t want this to happen to somebody else again. It’s devastating. It’s devastating to be working for a goal as long as I had, with my future all mapped out and then within a matter of 24 hours that was gone — all of it.

“There was nothing wrong with what I wrote,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong. There was nothing offensive. I would say there was no call for violence. There was nothing wrong with what I wrote. It’s that something like that can have such a devastating impact on my future, because of how someone felt about it. Not because of what it actually was, but because of the person who read it and how they felt. I cry quite frequently for the loss of my goals and for the loss of my dreams.”

Willis appealed the original decision and appeared before a grievance panel. Her appeal was denied on May 19 by unanimous decision.

“Therefore, as this Grievance Panel unanimously agrees the discussion post in Chronic I warrant a behavioral strike, and given an additional allowance for missing her ‘Plan of Success’ deadline of October 16, there is no alternate remedy provided by this Grievance Panel,” the decision on May 19 read.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote a letter on Aug. 16 to UCC President Rachel Pokrandt, who came to the college in July 2021, arguing that Willis’ post was protected by the First Amendment and that they’d like to see the disciplinary record cleared.

Dee Rubanoff, of the law firm Pack, Rubanoff & Hatfield, responded on behalf of the college on Sept. 1 and explained why the college would not be overturning the decision.

“Ms. Myler believed it was necessary to exit Ms. Willis from the program in order to uphold those professional standards,” Rubanoff wrote.

Willis argues that she stayed true to the assignment and used an actual court case as her inspiration for the post.

Her goal now is to get her record cleared so she can attend a nearby community college, but she has no plans to move out of the area to attend school.

“We’ve owned our home in Winston for 17 years. We’re raising kids here. I can’t just pick up and move to go somewhere else to be able to go to nursing school,” Willis said. “My ultimate goal is that UCC will clear my record so that I can apply to another school. Whether it be Lane or Rogue, somewhere within driving distance is at least doable. That’s my ultimate goal: to be able to finish what I started.”

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(9) comments

BetsyC

WoW! Now isn't this a tale?

I am for academic freedom, which is a whole lot about free speech and thought. However, I am not in favor of anyone working at a hospital taking pictures of anyone there, let alone patients. Posting on any social media should not only be an immediate fireable offence, that should have been grounds for immediate termination from any medical program. The article did say she was there not just as an employee but doing her school clinical work there. The UCC nursing program should have gotten rid of her then.

They may find it more difficult to do now. I am still trying to wrap my head around how what she wrote about could get her academically disciplined. It may offend some, but this too is a problem. Being offended is so subjective, which is something our right to free speech is supposed to protect us from. I don't have to like what you say to defend your right to say it. Conflating her outrageous behavior violating patients rights with this writing assignment is something that may backfire.

This woman just does not seem to have the personality to be helping vulnerable people who have a right to privacy and confidentiality when they receive health care services. However this does not seem to be the way to deal with that.

MI Go Beav

Sounds like she should spend more time focusing on school and not drawing attention to herself.

Tami103

When I graduated from UCC’s (then nationally accredited) nursing program 15 years ago, creative thinking was a skill that was encouraged. Ms. Willis’s essay topic sounds creative, colorful, and easily non-fictional. I would be offended if she would have written an essay perpetuating the stereotype that the person with ALS was depressed, lonely, taking liquids thru a feeding tube, home bound, etc. As a registered nurse I know the lives of the patients we care for are often dynamic, complex, and usually do not fit into a perfect cookie cutter portrait of what society thinks they should be for their gender/age/ethnicity. Our patients are NOT their diagnoses - they have lives and to imagine someone with a chronic illness is incarcerated really requires no stretch of the imagination. I fail to see the wrongdoing here. Perhaps there was more to the assignment? Was she asked to post a vanilla essay reciting issues with common symptoms found straight out of a textbook? This would require no higher level thinking or problem solving skills. Being dismissed or fire from a position really should have no bearing on one’s ability to succeed academically.

I wish Ms. Willis all the best at completing her nursing studies at a neighboring college. In the long run, she may be better off with a degree that is from a nationally recognized program anyways.

melrosereader

The essay? No problem. Taking videos of patients in the ER and posting them on TikTok? You are outta here.

S

I agree with Willis about her constitutional rights and the assignment; however, clearly there is more to this story and other issues involved for UCC to make the decision they made. I think she needs to reconsider her career choice and how her other choices have impacted that goal. Not my idea of a health care professional understanding what compassion and empathy are all about.

Thomas Hall

Kind of hard for me to understand how writing a paper that the instructor doesn't

'like' is considered a 'behavioral issue!!!

Also, if Willis was indeed give a score of '0' on the paper, then something is

amiss. I have graded student writing in the past. Normally, a grade is derived

by looking at content, word usage, punctuation, etc. Hard to believe that she

wouldn't score any points at all!!! If you put your name on the paper and write

a paragraph, I'd think you would receive some "credit"!

Huge bbfan

Tow the corporate line or you're canceled. A dangerous path the education? system is going down.

mworden

Willis says she's owned a home in Winston for 17 years and has raised children there. She is obviously not an impressionable young person who made a single mistake, seeing that she was fired from the Mercy ER for misconduct. Without reading her imaginative essay, I can't really say whether or not it was inappropriate.

But her Tik Toc behavior of taking videos in the ER and mocking patients definitely disqualifies her. Other nurses have found this out the hard way, in Oregon and elsewhere.

I don't have enough info to know if this particular situation is right or wrong, but I do know I wouldn't want my health hanging on the judgment of someone who would video and mock me on social media when I was in the ER sick and suffering and probably looking like I'd been dragged through a hedge backwards in a rainstorm.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/oregon-nurse-loses-job-agrees-to-stop-nursing-after-covid-violating-tiktok

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/30/us/oregon-nurse-tiktok-mask.html

https://www.medpagetoday.com/special-reports/exclusives/93464

NJ

"Willis said she was fired for recording videos in the ER in April 2020 that were uploaded to the social media site TikTok." Willis reads as though there's a disconnect between being an online persona where she felt free to post anything and real life where one learns maturity, respect and good judgement. Social media for young people is nothing more than a derogatory cesspool where one's worst behavior is encouraged and becomes habit. It's not an environment that espouses respect, maturity and good judgement. If real life hasn't taught one the difference, an online persona is not place to be teaching it.

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