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The Saint Article “Calling Time on Extra Time” Is Blatantly Ableist

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

Like many, I’ve always considered The Saint as emblematic of St. Andrews, its writers eagerly standing outside Rectors to hand out their latest issues, its contents containing a breadth of student interests from dissections of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie to the celebrity sweep-up of The New Picture House. Yet this weekend, I found my Instagram feed scattered with repostings of The St. Andrews Disabled Students’ Network post criticising the publication. The St. Andrews Disabled Students’ Network, a subcommittee of the Students’ Representative Council for disabled students in St. Andrews, took to Instagram to call out The Saint’s publication of two articles condoning ableism: one arguing for parental-like legalities surrounding drug addiction and the other arguing that the allocation of testing accommodations like extra time to neurodivergent students with learning differences furthers inequality. As a neurodivergent student who has been fortunate enough to receive diagnosis in early childhood, I was particularly shocked by the blatant ableism in the article “Calling Time on Extra Time.”

The St. Andrews Disabled Students’ Network described the article’s publication as an insinuation “that those with learning difficulties and processing disorders are unwelcome within university spaces—suggesting that only those with the ability to fit into able-bodied and neurotypical structures should be allowed into, and to succeed within university.” Similarly, in an interview with Molly Reade, Deputy Convener of DSN, said: “The day the article was published, I spoke to several students who found it harmful, and I spoke to staff who found it was a mis-accurate representation. I think it’s very inappropriate to release.” Just as the network had described, when I read the article, I found myself faced with a disturbing take; the writer describes the issuing of extra time to students with learning differences as “a distortion of almost Orwellian proportions” that only “entrenches privilege” as evidenced by the fact wealthy students are diagnosed with learning disabilities at much higher rates in comparison to low-income students. The writer surmounts their take with blatantly ableist claims such as, “…the proliferation of private school pupils suffering from ‘slow processing’ has enabled some very mediocre minds to ascend far beyond the bounds of their natural abilities,” which directly equates learning differences with a lack of intelligence, and argues that students with learning disabilities’ achievements can be owed to the “unfair” accommodations made for them, accommodations the article claims are unfairly given due to their privileged backgrounds. 

Alongside its blatant ableism, there are major flaws in the writer’s argument, beginning with the fact that they incorrectly establish testing as a purely egalitarian measure of intelligence, arguing that the higher diagnosis rates of wealthier children distort this equal playing field through perpetuating class divides; however, they do not acknowledge the numerous studies that link high test scores in-and-of-themselves with wealth. For example, in the United States, there has been a mass departure from solely relying on test scores as part of the college admissions process since studies have unearthed a correlation between higher privilege and better test scores. In a study conducted by Ezekiel J. Dixon-Roman from Upenn and John J. Mcardle from USC entitled “Race, Poverty, and SAT scores,” they compiled data that as summarised by Abigail Johnson Hess in CNBC, demonstrates that wealthier students “earn higher SAT scores compared to their low-income peers, and that the difference between high and low income students was twice as large among Black students compared to white students.”  Similarly, according to The New York Times, “At Ivy League schools, one in six students has parents in the top 1 percent […] For applicants with the same SAT or ACT score, children from families in the top 1 percent were 34 percent more likely to be admitted than the average applicant, and those from the top 0.1 percent were more than twice as likely to get in.” 

Although these statistics pertain to the US, we can see the prevalence of class divide in our own institution, which is one of the most highly ranked institutions in the UK; yet, despite this fact it is ranked as one of the poorest institutions for diversity and equality, with St. Andrews being described as a gated institution for the rich by The Scottish Left Review. Ultimately, as demonstrated by the surplus of wealth around us, the author’s assertion in “Calling Time on Extra Time” that exams are tests of our natural abilities is blatantly wrong. Inherited wealth and the higher rates of wealthy students at top institutions like St. Andrews demonstrate that these tests are not inherent, equal measures of intelligence. If they were, the author would argue that poor students, who earn lower scores on average and have lower levels of educational attainment in both the US and the UK according to JRF, also simply have “mediocre minds” as they ascribe to students with learning differences. 

The article secondly invalidates diagnoses, with the writer arguing that, as shown by the Campaign for Real Education (CRE), “the basis for diagnosing learning difficulties has become utterly unmoored from science.” They attempt to bolster this argument with the fact that poorer students with learning differences are frequently undiagnosed. They portray learning differences as near-commodified objects that, in their words, “can be purchased on the free market.” Their acknowledgement of the sad fact that many children who have learning differences and disabilities remain undiagnosed due to their socioeconomic status and lack of resources had so much potential to unearth an important conversation surrounding inequity and lack of accessibility surrounding diagnosis. Molly Reade pointed out the importance of this conversation in our interview, describing how  “the waiting lists at the NHS are the number one problem” when getting diagnosed, which forces people to turn to private healthcare whose diagnoses cost several hundred dollars or more, a difficult barrier that the DSN aims to improve through working with the university. Instead of simply acknowledging this issue, the author turns this fact on its head, using it to argue that learning differences are invalid diagnoses that can be bought and sold by bourgeois parents. In regards to the author’s takes, Molly Reade said, “I think if you had any nuanced understanding of learning difficulties, you would understand it is an intelligence thing, it is a needing to access things differently.”  This argument invalidates the experience of anyone with a learning difference, suggesting that their disability stems from a fictitious diagnosis and that they suffer from a mere lack of intelligence that would have prevented them from their success if not for their accommodations. Indeed,  the middle to upper classes are more likely to get diagnosed and have improved healthcare overall due to their resources, but this benefit of wealth does not mean their diagnoses are false. 

The author also argues wealthy parents buy these learning differences because their child is ‘unintelligent.’ Yet, the idea that people with learning differences and disabilities are unintelligent stems from ableism and is not true at all. According to The Mind Child Institute, many children who have a learning disability are Twice-Exceptional or 2E, meaning that although they may face learning challenges such as ADHD, dyslexia or dyscalculia, autism or sensory processing issues, they are simultaneously gifted in another academic or intellectual area. Many gifted children with learning disabilities are described as very intelligent and function to an exceptional degree in other areas while demonstrating a clear learning difference. Even for children who are not 2E, individuals who face learning challenges are statistically average or above average intelligence. Yet, their learning differences can result in discrepancies between their achievement and actual intellectual ability, hence the need for extra time and accommodation. While publications should be open for sharing diverse opinions and views, it is also important to ensure that this sharing is done within respectful bounds that do not harm specific groups or communities. Molly Reade pointed this out, saying, “One of the main things we’d like to reiterate is that actually, these conversations are important but from a multi-perspective conversation rather than from one perspective using one source.” The Saint’s publication of this article excludes the perspective of students with learning differences and disabilities entirely. This article’s publication, condemned by St. Andrews students with learning differences and disabilities, calls for greater awareness of  the content they produce. One can have freedom of expression and disagreement without publishing articles that make use of ad hominem, insulting and belittling certain groups of students in an unprofessional and discriminatory way. Ultimately, it is important that publications uphold this responsibility and make all students feel respected and welcome not only in the discourse surrounding political and social issues but in their place at the university.

Devon Davila

St. Andrews '26

Devon is a second year from Los Angeles, California studying English at The University of St. Andrews. She is passionate about tackling political, social, and cultural issues such as women’s rights, systemic racism, and climate change while also taking an interest in popular culture and mental health. She has won several photography and writing awards throughout her life and hopes to pursue creative writing and journalism beyond university. Outside Her Campus, her interests and hobbies include listening to music (particularly obsessing over Taylor Swift), photography, studying in coffee shops, singing and playing guitar, hiking and exploring nature, traveling, drinking hot tea in bed, writing poetry, and reading.