November 10, 2010

Recommitting to Mental Health

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Last semester the Cornell Community experienced a crisis of mental health of immeasurable proportions and reacted in an uplifting way. After experiencing the suicide of six community members, Cornell came together in a spontaneous and dramatic fashion to support those who were in distress. Students held support meetings, organizations sent messages of reassurance to their members and people rallied on the Arts Quad to rebuild the feeling of community which had been displaced. This energy and feeling of community we built at the end of last semester, however, is waning and our opportunity to change Cornell is ticking away.

This entire semester many organizations, including the Student Assembly, have attempted to push the administration to quickly make proactive and positive changes which are visible to all students. We have asked the Faculty Senate to help us encourage professors to put a workload disclaimer on all syllabi. It would state that if a student has three assignments worth more than 20 percent of their grade due within a 96 hour period, they are allowed to request one of the assignments be moved. We have discussed a proposal which would allow students who visit counseling services to have the ability to request that Gannett send a letter to their professors informing them that the student may be struggling. S.A. members are reviewing and creating suggestions on how to improve academic advising on a college and university level. We are also working with faculty to change the academic calendar so as to create a more consistent break schedule from semester to semester. Yet, all the ideas and initiatives put forward by students and concerned faculty alike have been placed on a multi-year vetting and approval process — a timeframe which, all things considered, is unacceptable.

The reason for this multi-year time frame, I am told, is that there exists a “silent majority” of professors who do not realize there is an issue of mental health on campus. Administrators and faculty alike claim that this silent majority may stop these changes from being adopted and that we must simply wait for the many mental health issues to be resolved.  As students who witnessed last semester tragedies, we cannot sit back and wait.

It is for this reason, today from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall the S.A. is partnering with many organizations to hold a Cornell Caring Community Celebration in an effort to reignite the sense of community we forged at the end of last semester. At this event the Student Assembly will also be unveiling a resolution requesting that the administration and the Faculty Senate adopt the changes outlined above. Lastly, this celebration will also be a call to action for all students. The S.A. is organizing a grassroots campaign to talk with every faculty member at Cornell about the issue of mental health so as to try and whittle away at this “silent majority” of faculty members who do not understand the issues and stresses which exist at Cornell.

As Cornell students, we often disregard the many issues that do not directly affect us simply so that we can get through the week. We cannot do this with the issue of mental health. Faculty and administrators who are tasked with addressing the issues which affect our lives can do so over many years — which is why we have seen so few changes thus far on campus. As students, we only have at most three years left to address what we experienced last semester and use the emotions we still feel for positive change. Don’t sit passively and allow nothing to occur, get involved and help improve your community.

Vincent Andrews is the president of the Student Assembly. He may be contacted at vpa4@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Vincent Andrews