Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Natalie Brown '18 speaks at an info session on a Mental Health Task Force in Rockefeller Hall, Feb. 6, 2018.

February 6, 2018

Students Organizing Independent, Student-Led Task Force to Review Mental Health Policies at Cornell

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As many at Cornell begin to question the University’s ability to provide adequate mental health services, two students have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Matt Jirsa ’19 and Natalie Brown ’18 announced their intent to put together an independent, student-led task force to investigate the University’s mental health policies, programs and practices.

Approximately 90 people expressed interest in the Facebook event, which resulted in about 10 students showing up at Tuesday’s information session for the task force, which is expected to comprise of 10-15 students.

Jirsa told The Sun that they haven’t approached university administration with their plan yet, so it technically hasn’t been approved or disapproved. However, he said that he hopes for full cooperation and transparency between the task force and the administration in working toward mutually beneficial long-term results.

“We really want to work with the administration,” he said. “We’d rather create change as mutual benefactors in order to see that change last over the long term.”

The two students said that they think this task force will be different from existing mental health organizations because of its focus on analyzing policies, making recommendations and going beyond discussion.

“We’re not just going to do things because we think they are right, we want to find the evidence and go based on what we’ve seen either empirically or outside the university before we make suggestions that we don’t necessarily have back up for,” Brown said.

Although Jirsa and Brown had been discussing the creation of this task force for almost a year, its announcement comes at a time when mental health issues have been at the forefront of campus discussions.

Last month, President Pollack denied a request for an external, independent, mental health task force requested by the parents of Sophie Hack MacLeod ’14, a student who died by suicide while on a mental health leave of absence. Pollack addressed the University’s efforts to address mental health challenges at a recent GPSA meeting, and Greg Eels, director of Cornell Health’s Counseling & Psychological Services, revealed at a recent S.A. meeting that the CAPS program was having trouble meeting student demand for services.

Jirsa hopes that task force would play an important role in terms of collecting different perspectives and facilitating interaction between students and the administration.

“We don’t want to be blaming anyone,” he said. “Especially in today’s political climate, there is too much blaming assigned to one party and not enough compromise and commitment to each other to do something that we’re all passionate about, which is mental health.”

Although Jirsa, who is vice president of Cornell Minds Matter, and Brown are both involved with mental health organizations on campus, the task force will be independent and not part of any existing organization.

“We want to come together not as student leaders, but as students,” he said. “More often than not, people in these positions of power tend to dominate the conversation. We want to make sure we have a wide breadth of people.”

The current plan is for the task force to go through four phases over the next year. The initial research phase will begin later this month once the group is assembled, and the final policy/recommendations phase is scheduled to occur by middle to late fall 2018.

“We’re scared, but we’re also tremendously excited because it’s a new thing,” Jirsa said. “It’s something we are really passionate about it, but we don’t know at the end of the day what’s going to get out of this, and that’s important to understand that. We don’t know if this is going to create change, but we want it to and we’re approaching it in a way that we think it could.”

There will be another information session held on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Stimpson G01. Applications are due Sunday at midnight.