Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Joanna Hua '20, co-president of the student mental health task speaks at the mental health community forum.

October 21, 2018

Student Mental Health Task Force to Submit Policy Recommendations to University

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The student-led Mental Health Task Force finalized its list of recommendations to improve Cornell’s mental health services on Sunday, with plans to formally introduce them to the administration and gather signatures from the student body on Monday.

The task force recommendations include hiring new counselors and mental health liaisons, new training for resident advisors and university staff, changes to leave of absence policies, and increasing access to off-campus mental health services. 

Since March, the task force has worked to identify possible areas of improvements to Cornell’s mental health services, during which the administration has faced criticism from students and mental health advocacy groups like The Sophie Fund — an advocacy organization founded by the parents of Sophie MacLeod ’14, who committed suicide while on medical leave from Cornell in 2016.

In January, President Pollack rejected calls for an independent review of campus mental health services from Susan Hack and Scott MacLeod, founders of The Sophie Fund. At the time, Pollack said that a two-year external review by the JED Foundation and internal reviews of Cornell Health are sufficient audits for its mental health program.

Hack and McLeod called the review “plainly insufficient” in a letter to Pollack in August, and repeated its call for an independent task force. In September, Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life announced that the University would hire three new counselors and plan a “comprehensive review” of its mental health policies, The Sun previously reported

Throughout the back-and-forth, the student-led task force co-chaired by Joanna Hua ’20, Matthew Jirsa ’19, and Chelsea Kiely ’20, has worked steadily to draft their policy proposals. On Friday, the task force held a forum to incorporate student voices and ideas into their final proposal, which will be sent to the administration Monday.

A letter adjoining the policy recommendations called Cornell Health initiatives and CAPS expansions a “fantastic start,” but said that “with high wait times and recent incidents of suicide attempts, we are far from where we need to be.”

The letter cited “the unique Ivy League culture of hyper-competition and ‘stress olympics,’” and Cornell’s location in the middle of a “rural health system” poorly equipped to handle the University’s size or student needs as challenges to mental health improvements.

The recommendations target three broad areas: mental health services, mental health education and collaboration, and academics and mental health.

“We want to work with the administration in a way that not only allows us to reflect on what we’re doing wrong or what they’re doing wrong, but also what they’re doing right. Because they’re doing a lot of stuff that’s right,” Jirsa said during the forum on Friday.