Most current Dartmouth students remember the hell this campus went through last year: Dealt a bounty of pandemic-related stressors, students’ mental health suffered tremendously over the course of last year, and three first-year students — Beau DuBray ’24, Connor Tiffany ’24 and Elizabeth Reimer ’24 — died by suicide within a matter of six months. In response to these deaths and years of complaints from students about Dartmouth’s mental health infrastructure, the College announced a four-year partnership with the JED Foundation, a national nonprofit that promotes emotional health on college campuses. The partnership began last week when the “Healthy Minds” survey was fielded to students. Over the next two years, that survey and other findings will be used to implement interventions on campus before the survey is readministered in the 2024-25 academic year. Some community members see this partnership in a positive light; one student referred to it as “a step in the ‘right direction’” in a recent article.
I, however, see the partnership as a total sham.
The College’s decision to partner with the JED Foundation is nothing more than a reactionary measure to check a box saying that Dartmouth is doing “something” after the catastrophe that was last year. And, yes, Dartmouth must do something, but the administration should draw its solutions from the plethora of legitimate complaints students have lodged against the College. The JED partnership is a waste of time and money; Dartmouth should immediately end its affiliation with the foundation and instead focus on resolving the problems its students have already identified.
In an Oct. 18 email encouraging students to take the “Healthy Minds” survey, interim Dean of the College Scott Brown exclaimed that “[t]his is your chance to be heard!” But, if this is our “chance” to be heard, that just underscores that Dartmouth has not been listening to students’ cries for help for years. Students have long been pointing out the issues with mental health on campus and how they might be solved. If the College took its responsibility as a student-serving institution seriously and actually listened to the students it serves, it would have a precise road map of how to support students’ mental health — indeed, The Dartmouth conducted a thorough investigation into mental health at the College this summer, and many columns in this newspaper have been dedicated to the topic.
In case the constant string of complaints have somehow gone unnoticed by the administration — and Brown’s email seems to suggest that they have — let me spell out exactly what reforms students have already called for: Improve the 24-hour mental health mental health hotline. Give students academic leniency throughout the curriculum and in times of crisis. Do away with its forced medical leave policy. Redistribute parts of Dartmouth’s budget — including College President Phil Hanlon’s salary and the housing communities — toward mental health counselors and services.
Of course, Dartmouth likely has some reasonable justifications for why it cannot deal with the above listed problems students have pointed out. Hiring more mental health professionals might be more difficult in light of the nationwide labor shortage. But any other justifications are nothing more than excuses for the College to ignore and disenfranchise students struggling with their mental health.
Let’s just say the College goes through with the full four-year JED Foundation partnership: In 2025, after the second round of surveys are fielded and their results analyzed, I can almost guarantee that Dartmouth will come out in that survey looking better than they will in today’s survey regardless of what the College does in the meantime. Why? Memories of last year — the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, terrible mental health and three student suicides — will leave with the Class of 2024 when most of them graduate. If, before the 2024-25 academic year, no other students die by suicide and students have no other reason to unite en masse against the College’s mental health apparatus, student perceptions of Dartmouth’s mental health infrastructure will be inflated by cohort replacement and the passage of time.
Unfortunately, Dartmouth seems to be positioning the mental health challenges of last year as nothing more than a fluke — a momentary blip in the College’s history that will disappear once the COVID-19 pandemic finally comes to its end. After all, based on conversations I have had with ’20s and ’21s as well as faculty and staff, last year was especially bad and the first in many where any student died by suicide.
Yes, the mental health of young adults across the country suffered because of the pandemic, but three suicides and countless other mental health concerns cannot only be blamed on COVID-19. Rather, the pandemic exacerbated Dartmouth’s persistent failings in advocating for and supporting students’ mental health over the past several years. Last year can easily repeat itself — and it will, again and again — if the College continues to neglect its students and their mental health.
Mental health can be an issue of life or death; on this issue, the College has repeatedly chosen death. The JED Foundation partnership, in completely failing to address the mental health concerns of this campus, is a slap in the face of every single student who has struggled with their mental health and grieved the deaths of four classmates in the last year. Dartmouth should be embarrassed by its callous intransigence. Students already know, and have told the administration, why we do not trust Dartmouth’s mental health services and what Dartmouth must do to regain our trust. There’s no reason it should take four years and potentially millions of dollars to address problems for which students already have communicated solutions. Listening to students costs nothing and provides Dartmouth with tangible, student-supported goals to work toward.