Like the majority of my fourth grade peers, I initially assumed that “in loco parentis” had something to do with being crazy, rather than the legal provisions that granted my school power to act in the place of a parent during the day. Recently, I’ve found the two interpretations aren’t mutually exclusive. As students clamor for the Yale administration to enact serious mental health reform, we call into question the extent of the University’s obligation to provide for those of us with mental illness in the absence of parental care.
I doubt that we’ll reach a consensus on the scope of Yale’s obligation in the immediate future. Besides a conflicting set of national ideologies about the role and necessity of colleges and universities, the vision of an ideal college mental health care program is foggy, especially when no outstanding model exists in the world thus far. But this looming question does provide context for the major philosophical debate that feeds popular opposition to Yale MH&C reform. Millennial university students place an unprecedented demand on school administration to provide for our mental wellbeing in addition to traditional academic and social resources, and there’s a vocal population of individuals who think we’re out of line in doing so.
My stomach twists when I read several of the comments on recent calls for MH&C improvements and policy changes. A majority of the cringe-worthy posts are accusations that the authors of these entreaties — and those who sympathize with their demands — are entitled, infantile or privileged; that the expectations we cite of Yale administration amount to coddling or pampering; that our vision of reform points not to a university, but an asylum. I’m hard pressed to make the connection between quality psychiatric services and any sort of pampering, but suppose I sympathize momentarily with the association — these arguments still prove grossly problematic.
The assertion that demanding a stronger mental health care system somehow equals entitlement or coddling blatantly undermines the scientific and academic consensus that mental illness is, like any illness, a biological pathology resulting from both genetic and environmental factors. It perpetuates some archaic, Freudian vision of psychiatric disorders as a failure to adapt to the challenges of adult life, placing the blame on mentally ill students for a national trend of increasing reliance on parental and academic support systems. It assumes that overcoming today’s incongruous realities of professional and academic life and emotional health — a zeitgeist of contradictions that far exceeds any other in modern history — is the inherited responsibility of our generation.
Deconstructed further, the coddling claim is really nothing more than a commentary on the persistence of stigma against mental illness. Yale devotes awe-inspiring capital to programs that allow students opportunities unheard of in the post-graduation world, including fully funded research and language immersion experiences, highly accessible advisors for travel and career guidance and medical insurance that guarantees emergency evacuation and aid overseas. In a group consultation at Yale Health for international travel over spring break, I was informed that should I purchase illegal drugs and be incarcerated while in Panama, Yale would still work to have me released.
Somehow these privileges afforded by Yale enrollment are invulnerable to the same criticisms that students have received in advocating for an overhaul of MH&C policies — and the reasons are obvious. International experience, research grants and career opportunities are the hot talking points that keep Yale on top of rankings and draw new students every year. Mental health care, despite its obvious primacy in the lives of current students, ranks low on the list of sexy campus features.
Were Yale or any of its comparable institutions actually interested in modeling real, independent post-graduate life, the majority of the current programs would cease to exist. This clearly should not be the case; Yale and the university system exist to foster academic and critical development by offering an entirely distinct experience from life outside the academy. If our examination of entitlement and privilege is consistent across the University, though, it’s obvious that few issues could be further from coddling than a decent framework for mental health care.
The argument that accuses advocates for mental health reform of infantile entitlement, or conflates the demands of policy improvement with coddling by the University, is a thinly veiled attack on the legitimacy of mental illness on college campuses. We must refuse to tolerate it.
Caroline Posner is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.