Mental and Behavioral Health
Posters calling on Harvard Law School to publicly release the findings of a student mental health survey were placed across campus last weekend as prospective Law School students visited campus for an admitted students weekend. The posters, addressed to prospective students, accused administrators of refusing to release the entire survey because of their reluctance to address mental health concerns on campus. “The administration is refusing to release – and actively covering up – data from this mental health survey, in part because they are trying to escape responsibility for their failing mental health support systems,” the posters read. “The student body and the broader public deserve to know how bad things are, and we must know to be part of any real conversation about change.”
In a large study published in Psychiatric Services, college students from minority groups demonstrated similar or lower rates of diagnosed psychiatric disorders than white peers; however, Asian/Pacific Islander and multiracial students reported significantly higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. These findings indicate that racial and ethnic minority students may have unidentified psychiatric disorders and thus may be a group at higher risk. According to study author Justin A. Chen, MD, MPH, the stigma of seeking help for psychiatric issues and lack of support services could inhibit college students’ ability to take care of their mental health.<
At a town hall at New York University with President Andrew Hamilton, discussion focused on the mental health struggles faced by foreign students, one month after a first-year international student died by suicide in his dorm room-the second undergraduate suicide this academic year. The event featured Jakiyah Bradley, the Alternate Senator at-Large for Students of Color and Students Experiencing Food Insecurity, Hüsniye Çöğür, Student Government President, Claire Liu, the Vice-Chair of the SGA’s Health & Wellness Committee, and Linda Mills, the Vice Chancellor and Senior Vice Provost for Global Programs and University Life. The speakers highlighted the numerous mental health support initiatives available across the university.
At the University of Virginia, peer health educators, a group of about 45 students who are trained in behavior change theory and health promotion, work to promote a positive culture of physical, spiritual and mental well-being. In an email to The Cavalier Daily, peer health educator Nicki Hussini said, “Peer education, in some instances, has shown to be more effective than adult education in establishing norms and changing attitudes towards various health behaviors. Being able to provide a level of understanding that even the most well intentioned adults may not be able to provide makes peer education a really valuable avenue for behavioral health change.”
The Harvard University Economics Department is taking steps to improve graduate students mental health in light of a survey conducted among Ph.D. students in the department which showed high percentages of anxiety and depression. Ph.D. candidate Matthew Basilico, who worked on the study, said the survey served as an important first step to addressing mental health issues in the field of economics. “People recognize this as an issue in economics. Even describing the problem and getting people’s attention focused on it has been a really important step,” Basilico said. He added that he thinks the department must continue to raise awareness, which can take the form of urging people to seek help for mental health issues and creating a more open culture for talking about personal problems. The department has worked to cultivate more personal advising relationships and peer support networks to increase openness and add another layer of support.
Cornell University will update its approach to clinical mental health services in the fall. Among the changes, students will be able to access mental health care when they need it, through 25-minute goal-focused counseling sessions that often can be scheduled the same day. Additionally, the length and number of sessions each student receives will be matched to that student’s needs and goals. The new model of care is an adaption of a system currently in place at Brown University that has been successful in supporting seamless and rapid access to mental health services. The Sophie Fund, an advocacy group focused on supporting mental health initiatives, called the plans disappointing” in a posted response. The Sophie Fund was founded by Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, whose daughter Sophie Hack MacLeod ’14 died by suicide while on medical leave from Cornell.Though MacLeod and Hack supported the reforms, they said that information was missing from the announcement, including who will run the external review, whether they will make recommendations for reforms and what the scope of the internal review committee will be.
Last year, Big Red Resilience, an initiative dedicated to helping University of Nebraska-Lincoln students bounce back from the challenges and stresses of college life was launched, offering a wide range of mental health services. This school year the program was able to expand its offerings with the help of a federal grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Association (SAMSA). The grant has allowed Big Red Resilience to organize specialized mental health training sessions for students and staff members. The sessions, called “gatekeeper training,” are conducted through a method called REACH, which was developed by Ohio State University and teaches participants to: Recognize warning signs, Engage with empathy, Ask directly about suicide, Communicate hope and Help suicidal individuals to access care and treatment.
Researchers at the University of Iowa created a measure representing social connectedness that correlates positively with retention and graduation rates. The researchers measured social connectedness by collecting data on a semester’s worth of ID-card swipes at the dining hall – nearly a half million from about 4,000 students in the fall of 2009. Using ID-card swipes, the researchers calculated a meal-index, or m-index, which was the product of how many meals the students had – and with how many different people – as measured by how many times a student swiped his or her dining card within a minute of another student. To score a high m-index, a student has to have many meals with the same person, so a student who had 10 meals with 10 different students, for example, would have an m-index of 10, a high number indicating that the student was socially connected.
Harvard University’s Office of the Provost convened a task force on managing student mental health to begin to assess and respond to significant increases in both student self-reports of mental health issues and the subsequent use of related services. The task force is charged with examining how Harvard can best address the mix of academic, social, and institutional issues that have the potential to influence student mental health, while looking beyond traditional services toward a more holistic model of care. The Gazette spoke with the task force’s three chairs to discuss what they hope to bring to the table in their respective leadership roles and how they believe the effort can quickly begin to improve mental health services at Harvard while also planning for long-term change.
Diversity and Inclusion
Latino students, as well as other minorities, often suffer from imposter syndrome, questioning the idea that their success is a function of their intelligence and hard work. Researchers have found that these young people often internalize social stereotypes and believe they gained college admission because of their ethnic background. In the wake of the college admissions scandal, in which wealthy parents allegedly cheated admissions requirements so their children had a better chance of getting into an elite university, several Latino students told NBC News that they were reflecting on their own place at colleges and universities. These Latino students felt they were constantly battling the feeling that people thought they were in good schools because they were “diverse” or part of a Hispanic “quota.” “It’s very interesting that most of us never thought to question whether other people who are in these classrooms deserve admissions,” Angélica Gutiérrez, a professor at Loyola Marymount University, said. “We just assumed they deserved admissions more than we do.”
The State University of New York at New Paltz will remove the name of slave owners from six buildings in time for the start of the fall semester. The school’s president, Donald P. Christian, said his decision to initiate the conversation that led to a recent vote grew out of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville. “The fact that these names were on residential buildings was one that we heard a lot from students – what it meant for them to be asked to live and eat and sleep in buildings that carried the names of slave owners,” Dr. Christian said.
A memorial to enslaved people at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was defaced with “racist and other deplorable language”, according to campus officials. The Unsung Founders Memorial, which honors people of color who helped build the school, sits near the former site of a Confederate monument toppled by protesters at the beginning of this academic year. The site has been a flash point, drawing demonstrators demanding the permanent removal of “Silent Sam,” as the Confederate statue is known. It has also drawn pro-Confederate demonstrators who want the monument restored and say it honors students who died in the Civil War. An outdoor art installation also was vandalized with racist and hateful language.
The recent college admissions scandal highlights flaws in the admissions process when it comes to equal access to elite universities. The debate has surfaced some out-of-the-box ideas about what an alternative might look like, such as a lottery system. NPR explores the idea.
Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights
California state SB 24 – the “College Student Right to Access Act”- was approved by the Senate Health Committee last week in a seven-to-three vote, and is headed back to the Senate Education Committee. If the bill accumulates the necessary passing votes and Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature, the state will be the first in the nation to require public universities to provide “medication abortions” at their on-campus health care clinics.”Students should not have to travel off campus or miss class or work responsibilities in order to receive care that can easily be provided at a student health center,” Senator Connie Leyva, who introduced the bill, said after it passed the committee. “This important legislation will help to improve the academic success of students and empower them to make decisions supportive of their own personal and professional futures.”
Basic Needs: Hunger and Homelessness
A hunger strike at the University of Kentucky influenced President Eli Capilouto to provide more support for students’ basic needs. Around 300 protesters demanding, among other actions, that Capilouto create a basic-needs center on campus to help hungry students, limited their diet in some way — some swearing off food entirely — until the demands were met. Capilouto initially questioned the veracity of a survey that found that 43 percent of respondents were food-insecure, or not sure where their next meal would come from. On Tuesday, he agreed to hire and train a full-time staff member to oversee and plan efforts to support basic needs on the campus. The university also plans to combine two student-support funds, in order to better coordinate assistance and communicate it to students. In a statement, a spokesman said the university “will be open to” physical space on the campus for these efforts, but he did not commit to creating a center. The protest is the latest sign that colleges are being pressured to do more to provide for their basic living needs.
In an op-ed in the Daily Bruin, UCLA student Evan Farrar, argued that the food closet at the school fails to adequately serve students who need its services the most. According to Farrar, the closet does not offer a wide variety of fresh, nutritious foods and believes UCLA administrators should reach out to local organizations and businesses for help. He also suggests the school model its food insecurity resource after UC Irvine, which offers a broad selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, and prepackaged foods.
Amarillo College‘s No Excuses Poverty Initiative has attracted national attention for the breadth of support it offers students. The college’s efforts have been buoyed by support from a local community that sees higher education as a key to bolstering its low-wage, service-based economy. At Amarillo, early data show that the college’s intensive interventions are improving completion rates and reducing disparities in achievement. At the same time, the effort has raised questions about how much responsibility a college should take on to meet the basic needs of students who struggle with homelessness and hunger. The wraparound support that Amarillo offers its neediest students reflects a growing recognition that poverty, rather than academic demands, poses the biggest barrier for many students in community colleges.
A medical marijuana bill is making its way through the North Carolina General Assembly. Should it pass, the potential for full legalization in North Carolina may also be on the horizon. Within this context, an article in the Daily Tarheel stresses the need for more research to fully understand the impact of use of marijuana on college students. The student paper points to a 2014 article by The New England Journal of Medicine, showing that as Marijuana gains legal status, negative consequences may also increase.
The Chronicle reports that two University of Arizona students who protested at an on-campus presentation by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency last month, calling the agents “murder patrol” and “an extension of the KKK,” have been charged with misdemeanors. The case is being closely watched by free-speech advocates who say it is unusual for arrests to follow a nonviolent campus protest. They say tougher crackdowns on student protests can be expected in light of President Trump’s executive order threatening to withhold federal money from campuses that fail to protect free speech. Video of the protest went viral and was picked up by conservative news outlets that denounced the students’ actions as free-speech violations. Both students have received hate mail and threats since the videos were posted. More than 300 faculty members at the University of Arizona have asked university officials to drop the criminal charges. In a letter, the faculty members wrote, instead of pursuing “a draconian response” to a peaceful protest, the university should focus on protecting the two students.
According to a report released by PEN America, a human-rights association of writers and editors, free speech is being tested on college campuses by rising numbers of hate crimes and deepening racial tensions. However, the report says that the Trump administration’s warnings of a “crisis” overstate the problem and risk further polarizing colleges. The 100-page report, “Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America,” finds that threats to speech are coming from both the right and the left. Lawmakers at state and federal levels are, in many cases, making the problem worse by raising “politicized and one-sided alarms over the state of free speech” on campuses, it says. In examining 100 speech-related controversies that have broken out in recent years, the authors found the battles reflected tensions between free speech and the goals of equality and inclusion.
NPR reports on free college tuition gains across the country. While experts acknowledge this is just one of many barriers students face, early numbers from Tennessee Reconnect, a state-led program that gives free community college tuition to almost anyone over age 25 who doesn’t yet have a college degree, are promising. In Tennessee, among those who start community college, fewer than one in three will get a degree within six years. But some some community colleges have reported higher fall-to-spring retention rates among Tennessee Reconnect students compared with the non-Reconnect adult population. According to Mike Krause, head of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, schools need to do more to prevent students from dropping out. Right now, he says, community colleges are trying to improve their processes for enrolling, registering and advising to make them as seamless as possible. “Ultimately this has got to be about making sure students don’t fall through the cracks because there aren’t any cracks,” Krause says. “We should always find ways for the state and campuses to bear as much of the support level as possible. I’m never going to blame a student for not succeeding in college.”