Student letter calls for change in UI mental health support

By Cecilia Milmoe and Ashleigh Kendrick

For many students, finding a balance between education and mental health can be difficult. While the University provides mental health resources to students, many students find these resources to be lacking.

Students in CMN 250: Social Movement Communication, taught by professor Billy Huff, created a letter focusing on the mental health struggles of students at the University as a class project. The letter was sent to Venetria K. Patton, Dean of LAS, with the hopes of encouraging the University to focus more on student mental health.

Huff said this isn’t just an issue at the University.

“I think that not just here but everywhere, mental health resources are under resourced on campuses,” Huff said.

For this social activism project, students were tasked with deciding on an issue that they personally wanted to see addressed. Huff said that students have chosen mental health as the topic every semester since fall 2019.

“When the class is tasked with choosing an issue that affects all of them, this just tends to be where they go,” Huff said.

Katherine Diviak, junior in LAS, took the course fall 2021 and is the teaching intern for the class this semester. Diviak said the project this semester focuses more on the interactions students have with professors.

“This semester was more, ‘OK, what do we wish professors knew and how do we get them to be more aware of what students need?’” Diviak said.

Huff said he believes students can find it difficult to talk to professors when they are struggling.

“Students really honed in on the lack of support they often feel in the classroom,” Huff said. “As a faculty member, obviously there’s a power disparity between me and students. And students can be intimidated to let professors know how they’re struggling.”

Diviak said another issue with the current system the University has in place is that many students are unaware of what help is available.

“Just making sure that you have an understanding of these resources I think is the first step if you’re struggling (with) mental health,” Diviak said.

Diviak also said that she doesn’t believe that the stress students face in the classroom is intentionally caused by professors.

“Professors just need to be more aware that this is a huge issue,” Diviak said. “This isn’t just our campus, this isn’t just LAS, this isn’t just communication, it’s every campus, everywhere students are extremely overwhelmed.”

Maya Pryde-Wait, junior in LAS and a student in CMN 250, said in an email that she sees the project as reflective of changing attitudes toward mental health.

“I think we as students are becoming more forgiving and understanding about mental health and it truly affects how we function,” Pryde-Wait said. “I believe this letter is a good start to changing the way (the University) takes care of their faculty and students.”

Huff agreed with Pryde-Wait, saying that he hopes there will be change within the University.

“(Mental health services) are not improving resources wise, although there is increased attention to the issue,” Huff said. “From the top levels down, there are a lot of conversations happening around mental health right now, so I’m hopeful that things will improve.”

In previous semesters, the letters created by the class were sent without receiving any response. This semester, though, the letter received a response from Dean Patton. A meeting will be held in order to discuss student concerns about mental health.

In response to the news, Pryde-Wait said that she was “very relieved and hopeful about (the University’s) future and students.” Additionally, Huff said that he considers the students’ efforts to be a success.

Diviak said that she hopes this will result in the University addressing the concerns of students.

“I just hope that they get more counselors, different types of counselors for everyone that needs them, and just a better system because I think we can all agree the system in place is less than ideal,” Diviak said.

Huff said that he sees this as a start, but that change is slow.

“Everybody that wants change wants it now, but it doesn’t work that way,” Huff said.

 

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