We’ll be upfront: There needs to be a public, community-wide forum that will force Yale to come to grips with grievances against its mental health resources and policies.
It’s been just over two weeks since we learned the heartwrenching news that Luchang Wang ’17 had taken her own life. The 15 days since have been loud with calls for change. There hasn’t been an utterance from the University in response.
Students have been mobilizing, publicly and quite aggressively, in search of reforms to the way mental health services operate at this school. Their dissatisfaction is not without precedent: For decades students have been campaigning in fits and starts for similar changes. But rarely have these efforts been tied so explicitly to a single event, to the death of a classmate. Many of Wang’s closest friends have refused to dissociate her death from the institutional resources and regulations that they claim marred her life.
Students have emailed Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway personally asking him to help change Yale’s policies so that students struggling with mental illness do not compromise their own care for fear of being forced to leave the University.
“I write to beg for your help,” Chris Cappiello ’15 wrote to Holloway on Feb. 1. “[I]f there is even the most minute possibility that a simple administrative change — for which there is precedent at plenty of other universities — will allow future students relief from the horrors of severe depression, then allowing things to continue as they are would be unconscionable.”
Ten days later, no response.
At least 70 seniors have vowed to boycott the Senior Class Gift as a way of signaling their dissatisfaction with the University’s handling of mental health issues. Students have created a Tumblr page, Nox et Veritas, where they are posting firsthand accounts of their experiences with mental illness and the perilous process of seeking institutional help.
“But who wants to listen to a story that starts with ‘In the hospital,’ right?” one post asks. Yet these are the stories dominating campus conversation right now. They’re the stories people in charge of policy minutiae need to hear.
In a letter emailed to students on Feb. 4, English professor John Rogers ’84 GRD ’89, chair of Yale College’s withdrawal and readmission committee, offered recently readmitted students the chance to give feedback on what it’s like to leave Yale, sometimes involuntarily, and then return.
Recipients had until Feb. 8 to answer 10 questions, on topics ranging from financial burdens to reintegration. Four days is a small window for big, complicated questions about this fraught process. A student emailed Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Pamela George asking why she had been given so little time to complete the questionnaire.
Rogers’ letter — which may or may not have been spurred by the tragedy the week before — sets into relief the otherwise deafening silence of the University in the two weeks since Wang’s death.
People need to feel like they’re being listened to, and that their experiences and pain matter. This means recognition from those at the top, those who are in positions of sufficient power to lead changes to the ways the University handles mental health care.
By virtue of the existence of the committee on withdrawal and readmission, these policies are under scrutiny. Self-reflection on the University’s part must involve public acknowledgement of students’ dissatisfaction as the first step toward reform.
Last week, University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak hosted faculty members at the Yale School of Medicine for a town hall on diversity and gender. Salovey and Holloway should do the same, but for mental health.
At its best, our University’s administration should amplify the voices of students speaking eloquently and passionately from personal experience with suggestions they truly believe will make this school better. Right now, their voices remain tiny, shouting at a Goliath whose utter silence is drowning them out.
We’re publishing as many student columns on this topic as possible, as well as offering our own take in the coming days, in hopes that someone, somewhere in Woodbridge Hall or SSS, is listening.