The mental health issues on campus have led to at least one good result: a subsequent discussion of these issues and their possible solutions. Over the past semester there have been numerous articles by students highlighting the problems with the mental health policy on campus that have sparked not only discussions, but also administrative responses. While I’m thrilled to see the administration is hearing students’ complaints, upon reading the responses I’m less optimistic about meaningful changes being made.
So far, the administration has offered little as a direct response to the specific problems about which students have expressed concern. Rather, the administration is spewing an empty response that sounds nice but does not actually suggest they are seriously acknowledging the problems. This needs to stop.
The administration has to stop worrying about Princeton’s image and must truly engage in a discussion of the problems at hand, so that together students and administrators can find real solutions to fix this and other problems around campus.
Vice President of Campus Life Cynthia Cherrey’s recent letter to the editor is a perfect example of this type of sugar-coating of a very real problem. She begins by suggesting that there is no evidence to support the students’ claims that the University decisions regarding “students coping with mental health issues” are “motivated by concerns about liability and reputation.”
I must admit that I find the lawsuits, letters and other evidence students have brought forth more convincing than Cherrey’s “personal experience” about whether “these concerns [of liability and reputation] were even mentioned.” The fact that Cherrey is even taking such a contrived and manufactured position in itself indicates a serious problem with the administration of our mental health services and the University’s concern for its reputation. Cherrey’s letter concedes nothing, but rather attempts to bolster the perception of how well the University handles mental health cases.
Moreover, the fact that “each case is carefully assessed on its own merits and with broad consultation” tells students nothing about how the individual’s personal desires are considered, which is a main concern of the students. No one has been suggesting others are not brought into the conversation at all. Rather, people have been questioning to what extent the student is provided fair options. The letter does not even address the latest round of complaints that the school is insisting a student waive his doctor-patient confidentiality in order to be readmitted. Cherrey’s statement fails to directly address the real issues and instead highlights policies no one has huge qualms about in general.
I understand the University has an interest in maintaining its image and does not wish to be dragged into an open public discussion on these tough issues. I also recognize that administrators are limited in what they can say about specific cases due to privacy issues. Nevertheless, I think this open conversation is needed and that students and the Princeton community at large will respect the University for being open to meaningful discussion and making real changes than they do for these patronizing attempts at mitigating the debate.
I also recognize that Cherrey has an interest in promoting our mental health services so that negative articles do not prevent students who can be helped from seeking that help. I think it is great that letters to the editor like that of Dr. Calvin Chin, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, highlight these great services. But Chin and Cherrey can promote what CPS is doing well while admitting that there are other policies that need major reconsideration and reworking. It’s great to highlight that decisions to take time off are “almost always made on a voluntary basis.” But I want the administration, and those at other schools facing similar mental health concerns from students, to recognize what the student body is concerned about are the perhaps minority of cases where this is not true.
As warmed as I am by reading that Vice President Cherrey wants “our students to succeed,” I want concessions from the University recognizing that the current policies are not perfect. I want substantive evidence that the University is working with students toward concrete changes to existing policies that seem less than just. If the University thinks letters to the editor like those from Chin and Cherrey are going to solve the problem or silence students, they are sadly misinformed. Students don’t want to be treated like fools who would read these letters and assume all is well. It’s time for the University administration to truly address the very real concerns the student body has regarding mental health.
Marni Morse is a freshman from Washington, D.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.