Verbum Ultimum: Dig a Little Deeper
The College must acknowledge that improving students’ mental health requires addressing shortcomings across campus — not just at Dick’s House.
The JED Foundation is set to announce its strategic plan for improving Dartmouth’s mental health infrastructure by the end of the term. Representatives from JED — a nonprofit that, according to its website, “protect[s] emotional health and prevent[s] suicide for... teenagers and young adults” — visited campus in late February to meet with administrative offices and various student groups. The strategic plan will be informed by this feedback, along with findings from the Healthy Minds Survey — which was sent out to campus during the fall term — and recommendations from committees of students, faculty and leadership across Dartmouth’s undergraduate and graduate schools.
Although the foundation’s strategic plan has yet to be announced, we urge JED to dig deeper — to consider how deficiencies in all facets of student life impact mental health. Any solution to the current crisis must acknowledge all the ways in which mental health is tethered to the efficacy of administrative policies across campus.
The College prides itself on the wide variety of wellness resources it offers students, which complement the Counseling Center. From the residential housing communities to the undergraduate deans office, Dartmouth likes to advertise these resources as major contributors to the support systems available to students. However, few students feel that these resources adequately address mental health on campus as they face repeated signs of how little the College really cares about them — from unsympathetic professors to unhelpful undergraduate deans to insufficient housing.
Currently, professors have full control over how much leniency they grant students regardless of the circumstances. While some may argue that this policy is vital to guaranteeing professors’ freedom in their classrooms, such practices can lead to students feeling helpless when experiencing a personal crisis or emergency. Compassionate professors also face challenges as the registrar’s NRO policy, which could assist students in crisis, is not flexible and typically cannot be elected after week two — something many professors attempt to offer their students just to find out it is not possible. Moreover, although one would expect professors to be compassionate and flexible when a student loses a loved one — or has some other ongoing mental struggle — this is not always the case.
Additionally, when students who are struggling reach out to their undergraduate deans for support — something they are constantly urged to do by their deans, professors and administrators — they are often met with unhelpful, one-size-fits-all solutions that don’t address the student’s needs. From being told to medically withdraw following the loss of a close friend to advising a student to stay in a course with a professor who responded to a mental health crisis without any human sympathy, the experiences many people on this Editorial Board have had with their dean has taught them that their offer for support is superficial.
Furthermore, since undergraduate deans don’t provide students with adequate solutions, students are then left with the task of determining how to proceed during times of crisis. And even in cases in which deans are supportive, they are not given enough power to influence professors’ actions. In short, unless the undergraduate deans office adjusts its policies such that they listen to students’ concerns and offer relevant and helpful support, students will continue to feel unsupported.
Meanwhile, the ongoing housing crisis has continually left students wondering not only where they will live the following term, but also if they will be offered housing at all. While this issue may seem unrelated to mental health, housing insecurity can increase the pressure students are under by adding yet another problem they must resolve. For students who are already struggling with their mental health or experiencing personal hardship, this added pressure only makes their mental health worse and can push them past their breaking point. And even when students are offered on-campus housing, in many cases, they are placed in cramped, overcrowded rooms — or even converted common spaces — that can affect daily routines, sleep schedules and sometimes even physical health.
Additionally, in cases where students are not offered housing, it is up to the student to figure out where they will live the subsequent term — a task that is further complicated by the limited and expensive housing available in the Upper Valley. Yet again, the College places the burden on students to find housing to make up for their own inability to build the necessary infrastructure to house the student body. In this sense, the housing crisis demonstrates that the College is in fact not the loving, caring home it makes itself out to be. After all, students cannot feel like the College is a supportive home when they can’t even guarantee students will have a roof over their heads.
All of these issues demonstrate that despite the College’s insistence that Dartmouth is our home, for many of us, this sentiment is blatantly not true. By failing to provide students with the support they need in almost every area of campus life, Dartmouth leaves students out to dry, feeling betrayed by the College that was supposed to provide us with the shelter and support.
While the issues we outline above address some of the campus issues affecting mental health, this list is by no means exhaustive. We acknowledge that it is not reasonable to expect JED to address every campus issue that can negatively impact students’ mental health. Nonetheless, it is vital that JED make some recommendations in their strategic master plan that address the campus institutions that students are told they can rely on.
Although we are hopeful that JED’s plan will significantly improve the state of mental health at Dartmouth, this will only be possible if the foundation seeks a holistic approach. After all, mental health isn’t only affected by what happens in a clinical setting, but rather by every part of a person’s life.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.