Verbum Ultimum: Dig a Little Deeper
The JED Foundation misses many important criticisms of the administration regarding mental health and wellbeing on campus, despite repeated calls to action by students.
On April 27, Provost David Kotz sent an email to campus with the JED Foundation's findings and recommendations regarding the state of mental health and well-being at the College. Dartmouth commissioned the report in May 2021 in response to heated student-led calls to re-evaluate college mental health policies after a wave of tragedies on campus. However, despite the College’s promise that this survey is a “comprehensive assessment of our campus mental health and well-being environment,” according to Kotz’s email, the report fails to adequately address concerns regarding the College’s mental health infrastructure and lacks meaningful suggestions for how to improve mental health on campus.
The JED Foundation’s report addresses some weaknesses in the College’s policies and practices, but it downplays them, or even worse, portrays them as strengths. Ever since the College first partnered with the JED Foundation, students have criticized the College’s shortage of counselors compared to demand. Many students, including members of this Editorial Board, have found it difficult to schedule a single appointment with the counseling center in a timely manner. The JED report reflects none of these concerns. In his email regarding the JED report, Kotz lists “Counseling Center Staffing” under “Representative Sample of Strengths,” despite continued reports that counselors are inaccessible. Apparently, the JED Foundation considers 14 clinicians and only one case manager to be satisfactory for a campus of 6,700 students, according to the report.
This section about the College’s counseling center also offers perhaps the least impressive statistic in the entire report, boasting that the center offers counseling in only three languages besides English: Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese. These three languages are simply not enough. It is also worth noting that numerous commonly spoken languages are missing: Spanish, Korean, French and many others. The JED Foundation commends the supposed availability and diversity of counselors at the center, which is harmful when the reality leaves much to be desired. This leaves open the possibility for the College to use this report as a vindication of its insufficient commitment to students and justify investing its resources elsewhere.
The report also repeatedly recommends, in various forms, that the administration evaluate the state of mental health on campus or develop strategic plans to improve it. This confused some students, us included, who thought these were the responsibilities of the JED report itself and were surprised to see them so blatantly dodged. One recommendation in particular baffled us: The JED Foundation “recommended developing a strategic plan that included current and long-range plans.” It also offers a similar suggestion: “that Dartmouth take a strategic approach to address mental health and well-being.” This sentence is totally devoid of substance and emblematic of the College’s repeated attempts to evade its responsibilities. We are extremely concerned that with such vague recommendations, the JED Foundation failed to illuminate any tangible paths forward.
The report’s “specific recommendations” are also vague. While the JED Foundation correctly identifies a need to “streamline procedures” for medical leave, which students have demanded for years, it fails to offer any concrete solutions to this end. It merely proposes “helping … students [communicate] with multiple offices such as financial aid, housing and the registrar.” This solution does not provide the support that students need when taking medical leave. In addition to its vagueness, this proposal misses other important issues regarding medical leave, such as the stigma surrounding medical leave’s “legalistic language,” and a need for a longer appeals process for involuntary withdrawal, which students recently discussed.
Similarly, the report details the need to “cultivate more social opportunities beyond Greek life,” and observes that the “undergraduate social scene revolves around fraternities and sororities.” It also comments on the potential for “high-risk drinking” in these spaces. This is, of course, true. However, it seems more intuitive that the abuse of alcohol is a symptom, rather than a cause, of poor mental health and well-being on campus. It further explains that any new spaces must be considered “high-value by students,” but neglects to offer any direction as to what these hypothetical spaces might look like. Dartmouth has already made an effort to provide an alternative space in the form of housing communities, but we believe few students would argue that these spaces are “perceived as high-value by students.” Criticizing Greek life, without offering a plausible alternative, does not offer any substantive suggestions beyond attacking some students’ primary social community on campus.
We do not deny that the JED foundation has offered some useful conjectures regarding the state of mental health and wellbeing on campus. Its preliminary recommendations over the summer supported some substantial changes, such as the addition of teletherapy, according to Kotz’s email: In the fall, the administration partnered with Dartmouth Student Government to provide “flexible access” to virtual mental-health counseling for all students through services provided by UWill.
However, the sheer number of issues brushed aside or misrepresented in the JED Foundation’s report is inexcusable. The College should proceed with caution when referring to this report for future decision-making with the understanding that the report is, indeed, imperfect. Rather, a truly comprehensive assessment requires the administration to consider long-standing input from its own students, who speak from experience.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.