Mental health became a campus-wide topic of conversation over the last year. After several suicides, the UP community was left feeling shocked, sad and (for some) angry. In the wake of suicide, people often wonder: “Could I have done more?” or “What could I have done differently?”
The University of Portland was no different.
Our community reacted with: We could’ve done more. We want to do more. And now we are doing more.
Since the creation of Active Minds at UP last spring, the campus conversation about mental health has not wavered. Between support groups, art installations, discussion events and fundraisers, students seem to be doing something new every week to address mental health.
It’s easy to see the tireless activity of students. Posters and magnets addressing mental health are up in every dorm. New events are created on Facebook every month, like an Inside Out movie discussion and a MENtal Health discussion in Christie Hall. And once a week, an Active Minds club member submits an opinion piece to The Beacon describing their personal connection to mental health.
In addition to students, we know administration has been working to address mental health as well.
In September, President Fr. Mark Poorman sent an email to the UP community announcing the administration’s commitment to addressing mental health.
In this email, Poorman, in conjunction with Provost Thomas Greene and VP of Student Affairs Fr. Gerard Olinger, affirmed the University’s commitment to students’ health and wellbeing, as well as promising the creation of “sustained initiatives to promote emotional and mental health and wellness on our campus.”
While this verbal commitment may not seem like much, President Fr. Poorman has made a lot of progressive changes, making administration significantly more transparent than it has been in the past. For example, in 2009, the then-president of UP forced The Beacon editor-in-chief to remove copies of The Beacon from racks around campus because the front page story addressed a recent suicide.
Under the leadership of Poorman, administration has supported candlelight vigils and remembrance masses. They’ve even gone so far as to start acknowledging certain deaths as suicides when they happen.
Furthermore, the administration demonstrated their commitment by creating an ad hoc committee on mental health this November.
Last week, Beacon reporter Cheyenne Schoen discovered that the ad hoc committee on mental health was looking for student perspectives. Students’ insights are necessary for this committee to be informed on the community’s needs.
Unfortunately, when administration created the ad hoc committee, they failed to include any students as constant committee members. Students should be a consistent part of the conversation, not just a group to consult once in awhile.
The administration does a lot of great work. But in order for that work to be recognized and understood, the administration needs to actively engage with students and intentionally communicate to the UP community about what they’re doing.
There are so many ways to engage students — having a student (or several students) on the Ad Hoc committee for mental health would be one major way. If a student was on the committee, and was given the resources and support, they could serve as a channel through which administration could communicate with the rest of the UP community. This hypothetical student could maintain a social media account, updating students on Twitter or Facebook about the committee’s progress. Submitting a column to the opinion section on a regular basis would be another way they could reach out to the community.
In addition to increased transparency and better communication, we’d like to see other tangible additions made to our community’s approach to mental health. We want another full-time therapist at the Health Center to accommodate an ever-growing student population. We want (more) therapy groups through the Health Center, and better communication about what the Health Center offers.
Again, reaching out to students on social media — meeting them where they’re at — would be an excellent way to communicate more effectively to the student body. And lastly, we want regular support groups offered in dorms.
We understand that change takes time. We understand that forming a committee, finding time to meet and generate an action plan takes time. We don’t pretend to know all the complexities of widespread campus and administrative change — and that’s why we need more communication between the administration and the rest of the community.
With such an intense and personal issue like mental health, it can be hard to know how to address it appropriately. But like so many students have said — during mental health events and through the Let’s Talk column — silence is the most dangerous response.
So, administration, please talk to us. Tell us what you’re working on. Include us in the conversation.