Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, July 16, 2019

In press call, Burwell discusses how AU is addressing students’ mental health challenges

AU president argues that employers need to prepare support networks for graduates

In press call, Burwell discusses how AU is addressing students’ mental health challenges

University President Sylvia Burwell discusses her diversity and inclusion strategy during an interview in January 2018. 

In a conference call hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations on Jan. 30, University President Sylvia Burwell discussed the ways in which AU is addressing mental health challenges on campus as well as how universities should work with employers to create support networks for graduates. 

While the call was organized in response to Burwell’s article “Exploring the Mental Health Crisis” published in the council’s magazine, Foreign Affairs, last October, Burwell answered a wide range of questions regarding mental health both on AU and campuses nationally. The call was open to the public and included both faculty and student listeners from universities across the country.

Burwell began the conversation by explaining what led her to write about campus mental health and why she thinks it is an important topic to emphasize in higher education. 

“If you look at national statistics, you see 39 percent of college students reporting experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety in the 2016-2017 academic year,” Burwell said. “And the percentage of students who receive therapy has jumped from 13 to 24 percent from 2007 to 2017.”

She identifies three areas in which she believes most of the students’ mental health issues stem from: economics, safety and technology. The Eagle previously reported on these arguments, which are featured prominently in Burwell’s article, as well as on the backlash the article received from AU students. 

During the call, Burwell discussed ways in which AU is combating what she referred to as a “public health issue.” Some changes and administrative policies included adding more mental health counselors, adding “curricular engagement to AUx 1 and 2” and “changing the way that [Title IX] investigations occur.” 

AUx refers to the mandatory freshman curriculum meant to help students transition to college during their first two semesters at AU. In addition, the University has implemented reforms to its approach to Title IX cases in the past few years following a string of federal Title IX complaints filed against the University. Some of those reforms will likely be affected by new rules proposed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. 

Burwell said her efforts to improve mental health have extended into external networks that she hopes will better prepare students for life beyond AU. 

“Our work with employers is growing and is an important part of why I wrote the piece,” Burwell said. “I think we need to think about how we work hand in glove so the support systems that we’re building on university campuses and the things that we’re trying to do are reinforced when students go to that next step of employment.”

jgagnon@theeagleonline.com 


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