Over the course of this past year, I have spoken often of the need for us students to concentrate our efforts while working toward shared goals. We must all be active participants in the effort to make Yale a better place. The announcement this past Thursday that Yale Mental Health and Counseling would be adding psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers serves as a great example of why this concentration is so important.
The push for added resources at MH&C is not a new one. In an Oct. 2013 report, the Yale College Council formally recommended that this step be taken. Anecdotally, this proposal has been floated even further back.
What is new, however, is the decisive fashion in which students have rallied around the need for change surrounding mental health. In the last few weeks, undergraduate and graduate students from all facets of campus life have united in expressing concerns about mental health policies. From the emails sent to administrators to the conversations that have filled our dining halls to the comprehensive and cogent analysis of mental health policies produced by the News, a simple message has been conveyed with clarity and resolution: The time for change has come on mental health.
Lest we be like George Dubya on the aircraft carrier, no one should pretend that last Thursday’s email was a “Mission Accomplished” moment. In the coming weeks, we will receive more specific information about the personnel additions at MH&C, and the results of the leave of absence and withdrawal policy review are still to come. Further, the important task of looking out for each other and promoting a culture free of stigma for seeking help will be ongoing. On mental health, there is more work before us than behind us.
The developments we have seen over the past month, specifically with regards to mental health, nonetheless provide a telling lesson about how to create the change we can believe in on our campus. As far as policy advocacy is concerned, the YCC will always be our best mechanism for engaging the administration. The student-wide election of YCC’s leadership and the organization’s unique mission and access equips us to champion important causes in the most direct and effective way.
That being said, without the active support and engagement of students on policy issues, the YCC is feeble and vain. Student voice at Yale is not institutionalized, and unlike our peers at 70 percent of public institutions in this country, we do not have a seat on our governing board. In fact, the YCC has hardly any access to the Yale Corporation at all. With these institutional barriers, the student voice is muted; we need all the help we can get to amplify it.
I am grateful for the many undergraduates this year who have taken the initiative to write op-eds, send me emails and otherwise actively seek to improve the student experience at Yale. It has been an integral component of the student-driven efforts to expand mixed-gender housing, reverse the tide of the rising student contribution, save Christmas and reform mental health and withdrawal policies. I am writing this column today because tonight we have a unique opportunity to continue this trend.
At 6 p.m. in LC 102, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway will be joined by officials from Yale Health and the University administration to engage directly with students on issues of mental health. This event will be the best opportunity to date for the entire community to discuss why the current policies exist, and how they can be improved. There can be no doubt that we care deeply about this issue; finally, we have a structured fashion in which that passion may be expressed.
Most importantly, we have reason to believe our concerns will be considered and that today will not be a patronizing effort to mitigate student frustrations. My justification for this optimism is the man who will be moderating it, Dean Holloway himself. Yesterday in this paper we saw, from perhaps the unlikeliest of sources (apologies to Scott Stern), a thorough look at a leadership style that integrates student input (“A dean who listens,” Feb. 24). YCC Vice President Maia Eliscovich ’16 and I have broached a wide range of topics with Dean Holloway this year; without exception, he has been direct and honest through every step of the decision-making process. This upcoming Sunday, he will be the first Dean of Yale College in the YCC’s recorded history to attend a meeting.
On issues that place Dean Holloway at the helm, such as reforms to withdrawal policy, the administration is listening. Tonight, let’s make the most of that opportunity.
Michael Herbert is a junior in Saybrook College and the president of the Yale College Council. Contact him at email@example.com.