Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Mental Health Task Force letter drop at Day Hall on November 30th, 2018.

February 14, 2019

New Standing Committee Will Give Students Voice on Mental Health Concerns

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Last semester, a student-led Mental Health Task Force presented a list of recommendations signed by nearly 300 students, faculty and community members to Cornell administrators. This semester, at least one of its recommendations will be fulfilled as the University’s first Mental Health Standing Committee officially convenes.

The student-led committee aims to bridge the communication gap between administration and students involved in the mental health community by creating “established contact” between the two groups, according to Chelsea Kiely ’20, co-chair of the new committee and president of Cornell Minds Matter.

“Often we are unaware of some of the work Cornell Health and the administration is doing,” Kiely told The Sun in an email. “And often they are in turn unaware of some of the less obvious problems students have with the systems in place for handling mental health.”

The committee will serve as a liaison between the students and the University, and will be independent of the University — which, according to Kiely, means they do not have to report to the school administration.

The main objective of the committee is to ensure that parties are held accountable, wrote Joanna Hua ’20, co-chair of both the committee and the previous Mental Health Task Force in an email to The Sun, who said the committee will coordinate regular meetings with key University representatives — such as Vice President of Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi, the Cornell Health administration and the dean of Students.

“The point of the standing committee is to keep people accountable, and meet with administrators to ensure that we can collaborate on improvements that students would like to see and Cornell Health and other institutions on campus can reasonably adopt,” Hua said.

In keeping with last year’s Task Force recommendations, the committee will review and recommend practices to address mental health concerns.

“The committee will dedicate itself to not only streamlining this communication process, but also working on the recommendation list objectives with the administration as we collaborate to improve mental health on campus,” Hua said.

Recommendations proposed by last year’s Task Force included easing access to off-campus mental health services, adding more CAPS counselors and appointing permanent mental health professionals to advocate on behalf of students, The Sun previously reported

Cornell Health currently employs 18 psychologists, 18 clinical social workers, three psychiatrists and two psychiatric nurse practitioners, according to Sharon Dittman, director of community relations for Cornell Health. A survey of students conducted last November found that over 80 percent “considered adding counselors a ‘medium’ or ‘high’ priority.”

The committee is still in the process of forming and is currently accepting online applications to gather a group of diverse students to ensure that all voices are heard.

“We want to see as much diversity as possible on this standing committee to ensure representation of all angles to mental health,” Hua said.

The task force is hoping to channel students’ motivation on mental health — which Kiely called a “hot button issue” on campus — to create real change in the Cornell community.

“Mental health is at a tipping point at Cornell University, and this momentum that we have for improving mental health for all is incredible,” Hua added.