Five weeks after an open forum in which Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway refused to commit to addressing the Yale College Council’s 2013 and 2014 recommendations on mental health point by point, he, along with Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin, has done just that.
At the Feb. 25 forum — where students were invited to voice their concerns over Yale’s mental health resources and policies — YCC president Michael Herbert ’16 asked a panel of administrators if they would promise to address, by the end of the year, every recommendation in the YCC’s 2013 report on mental health and 2014 report on withdrawal and readmission. Holloway said he would not.
But in a college-wide email sent Thursday afternoon, the YCC announced that four of its members had met with Holloway and Genecin and addressed seven recommendations from the 2013 report. The email included a document outlining the recommendations that had been addressed and the administration’s response. But while the YCC members involved expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting, they emphasized the need for the administration to follow through on what they have promised.
“They gave us specific things to expect, and [on issues they did not agree to,] understanding as to why we can’t expect them,” Herbert said. “They helped provide transparency on administrative decisions and legitimated the hard work of the report’s authors.”
During the meeting, the YCC members — Herbert, YCC Vice President Maia Eliscovich Sigal ’16, University Services Director Madeline Bauer ’17 and Chief of Staff Joe English ’17 — highlighted seven recommendations from the September 2013 report that pertained specifically to Yale Health. The recommendations included calls for a mental health student advocacy group, more centralized information, allowing appointments to be scheduled via email, improved communication with patients, improved communication with the student body, expanding staff at Mental Health & Counseling and increasing coordination with therapists outside of MH&C.Of these recommendations, five were accepted by Holloway and Genecin, with differing levels of implementation already complete. The YCC and the administration did not arrive at any concrete plan for action regarding improving communication with the student body. Coordination with outside therapists, while “not outright rejected,” raised questions about feasibility and efficacy, according to the YCC document.
Perhaps the most significant change came in the administration agreeing to allow patients to schedule appointments via email, something against which they had previously pushed back. Multiple students at theforum raised concerns about the “phone tag” they had to play in order to secure an appointment, but Chief Psychiatrist of MH&C Lorraine Siggins said at the forum that there were legal considerations surrounding confidentiality. On Thursday, though, administrators confirmed that Yale Health will allow appointments to be scheduled through email starting in the fall.
The recommendation for an advocacy group has already been fulfilled, the document said, with the 2014 creation of the Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing. The coalition is an undergraduate umbrella organization for all the student groups on campus that work on related issues. It grew out of the findings of the 2013 YCC report. Though it works closely with administrators, it is entirely student-run and has no formal ties with the administration, said Corinne Ruth ’15, who sits on the coalition’s steering committee.
To address student calls for more centralized information surrounding mental health and wellness, the office of University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews is working on a website that will house relevant information, the document noted. The idea for such a website came in direct response to the YCC report, as well as several other documents that have emerged from various groups across campus, including bodies in the graduate and professional schools, Goff-Crews said. She added that the first installment of the website should be available by the start of next semester.But the administration dealt with other proposals more hesitantly.
According to the document, no concrete steps were established to improve communication with the student body or streamline feedback mechanisms for patients. While Genecin told the YCC members that the call for improved intake appointments had been successfully implemented, he did not elaborate on what exactly those improvements look like, Herbert said.
“That’s something that’s honestly a little more nebulous to us,” Bauer said.
The response to the YCC’s recommendation for a staffing expansion was also somewhat unclear. On Feb. 19, Genecin sent a campus-wide email announcing that MH&C would be increasing the size of its staff but did not specify the details of the expansion. At the meeting, Genecin clarified that two new clinicians had already been hired, and that more significant growth was on its way, Herbert said. MH&C currently employs 28 clinicians.
But, the document noted, such an expansion would have to be approved by the Yale Corporation at its meeting in June.
When asked if the Corporation is required to approve all staffing increases, Goff-Crews said that budget requests and hiring decisions for MH&C are made by Yale Health. Still, YCC members will meet with a few Corporation members in April and will push for approval, Eliscovich Sigal said.
“I think that the evidence is all out there,” she said. “It’s a matter of how much they want to commit to the idea.”
The least amount of progress was made on the recommendation that MH&C turn to outside clinicians to alleviate understaffing problems or allow students to use Yale Health insurance at private providers. Administrators called that proposal expensive, and noted the limited number of mental health providers in New Haven, the document said.
Still, despite the limited scope of the morning’s meeting, YCC members interviewed agreed that it was a positive demonstration of the administration’s willingness to listen. The meeting exemplified that students and administrators see eye-to-eye on many of these issues in a way that was not on display at the town hall, Bauer said.
What matters now, Herbert said, is ensuring the promises come to fruition.
MH&C sees about 20 percent of undergraduates every year.