Carrying signs that read “Work Shouldn’t Hurt,” Cornell graduate students marched from the steps of Cornell Health to the third floor of Day Hall to deliver a mental health petition on Wednesday, calling on the University to address their concerns.
The rally, organized by Cornell Graduate Students United and attended by over 70 people, follows the submission of a letter listing recommendations from the undergraduate student-led Mental Health Task Force to Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life, on Friday.
“Dialogue is happening. Change is not happening. And we want to make sure the administration is hearing our voices loud and clear,” said David Blatter grad, CGSU secretary.
Blatter told The Sun that CGSU has been in contact with other campus groups like the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Coalition on Mental Health, and that CGSU can “play an important role” in ongoing discussions on campus surrounding mental health.
Though the protesters were told that President Martha E. Pollack was traveling and Provost Michael Kotlikoff was in meetings, they handed their petition and two student stories to an assistant and asked to be contacted by Feb. 1. Blatter told The Sun that the petition received over 850 signatures.
The six demands in the petition included an external review of Cornell Counseling and Psychological Services, gym membership reimbursement, improvement of the therapy referral process and others.
In September, Lombardi announced that Cornell would be increasing the number of CAPS therapists, expanding mental health services and planning a “comprehensive review” of mental health. Lombardi told The Sun in September that the review would bring together “internal and external partners” and was expected “to begin as soon as early 2019.”
“We look forward to reviewing the petition and to continuing our efforts to promote a positive climate for mental health at Cornell,” said Joel M. Malina, vice president for university relations, in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
The petition and demands were based on a mental health survey conducted by CGSU during the spring and fall semesters. The survey, which was “completely anonymous,” received about 60 responses, according to Nathan Sitaraman grad, who led the tabulation of the responses.
“Going through all those survey responses one by one has really opened my eyes to the extent of this problem and to a lot of problems that I haven’t been aware of, especially regarding the bureaucracy of the whole referrals process,” Sitaraman told The Sun.
Sitaraman, who said he was also involved in working toward better mental health care as an undergraduate, explained that while CAPS can help address issues faced by undergraduates, there are other challenges like fieldwork abroad and living alone for the first time that more affect graduate students.
“We want CAPS to continue focusing on undergraduate mental health as well of course, but we’d like to see more attention paid to issues that specifically affect grad students, too,” he said.
Natalie Hofmeister grad, CGSU grievances chair, said mental health can become a “cascading issue” when graduate T.A.s and their students both struggle with mental health.
“I think that grads occupy a position within the University where we are often the front lines when undergraduates have mental health concerns, at least in my experience,” she said. “Like I’ve seen so many of my students struggle with their own mental health, and that, it’s taken a toll on my ability to show up for them when I don’t get adequate support for my own mental health.”
Hofmeister said she “won’t feel like the University has addressed grad mental health” until all of the demands in CGSU’s petition have been met. She also emphasized the need for the University to help both undergraduate and graduate students with mental health concerns.
“If they want to help undergrads, they need to help grads and vice-versa,” she said. “We’re all trying to support each other and that requires … policy changes sometimes.”
This article is part of the Loneliness Project: a multimedia collaboration between WRFI, The Ithaca Voice, The Cornell Daily Sun, and the Ithaca College Park Scholars.