Staff Editorial: Email on mental health aid reveals out-of-touch view of administration
University should consider the impact of their statements on perceived support for students
On Jan. 26, Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence Dr. Fanta Aw sent the AU community an email regarding mental health resources on campus. The email, masquerading as an attempt to reach out to students searching for support, had an accusatory tone and was punctuated by statistics that functioned to place blame on students for the state of counseling services on campus. It seemed that rather than taking steps to address students’ requests concerning these resources, the administration chose to place that burden back on the struggling students asking for help.
Beyond the absurdity of responding to demands for change by assigning blame, the email and the represented view of administration completely ignore the conversation AU students are trying to have. At the core of this issue, the fact remains that the administration, time and time again, prioritizes its image over the necessary and tangible needs of its students. As the new Hall of Science is slowly constructed and plans for a future training facility are shared, it’s only fair for students to wonder when their necessity for more therapists will be met.
One of the statistics cited in the email was the fact that 97.5 percent of students who have accessed the Counseling Center would recommend it to other students. Off-campus therapy can be an immense financial strain on any student and many insurance plans cover little to none of those costs. With the Counseling Center being the only free resource AU students have access to, it makes complete sense why they would recommend it to their peers. All this means is they would rather their friends have some hope of treatment, even if it won’t be for another month, than none at all. This statistic cannot and should not be mistaken for any vote of confidence beyond the fact that the Center itself exists.
What the other statistics fail to recognize are basic symptoms of mental illness. Therapy is a grueling process that forces you to examine and discuss extremely uncomfortable things. Beyond the notion that canceled and missed appointments are a fact of everyday life, getting out of bed to talk about your darkest thoughts is a feat in and of itself. Belittling students and diminishing that to “choosing not to show up for appointments” is an admission that the administration simply does not recognize mental illness to be the tangible problem that it is.
While the administration should certainly be focused on transforming mental health resources, it should also be more transparent as to where the numbers they base so many claims on are coming from. Are they collected from the tedious survey that the Counseling Center forces everyone to take at the end of their sessions? Knowing a bit more about where this data came from could give students a deeper understanding of this information.
The email also makes a point to disclose cancellations that are “same-day." It seems contradictory that students should have to wait for three weeks to get an appointment while so many appointments are being missed or canceled. If the Counseling Center could set up a system similar to that of advising, it would both allow students to get appointments significantly sooner and make up for the “waste” of canceled counseling time. Creating a system that allows students to go in and choose appointments as they open up facilitates the process for all parties involved.
Vice President Aw concluded the email with a plea to students to ensure that counseling services are “utilized thoughtfully.” This phrasing implies some sort of hierarchy of mental health needs as if certain students who are “only” mildly depressed should not take away appointments from students who are severely depressed. This implication is dangerous and only further discloses the reckless attitude that the administration displays towards the mental health needs of students.
Administration is continuously planning for the future, a future with more science majors or higher-ranked sports teams. This careful planning comes at the cost of the students who are here now and who are struggling to find support on a campus that wilfully ignores their needs. Perhaps instead of placing the burden on students to somehow fix the failings of the Counseling Center, the administration could learn from schools similar in size to AU who have comparatively successful resources. It could form focus groups to glean the needs we have that it clearly doesn’t respect or understand.
Since the email was sent, AU’s student body has responded with outrage. With responses from Student Government, AU College Democrats and the overall student body enumerating by the day, it is imperative that the administration recognizes their shortcomings in sending that email. In a period of our lives as transformative and uncertain as our undergraduate years, feeling supported by the institution where we sleep, eat and learn is essential.
As the national movement to normalize mental illness in schools gains traction, this email proves that AU is falling behind. It is imperative that AU administration joins this conversation and finally makes the needs of its students its primary priority.