Content warning: This article contains references to suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.
The conversations following the tragic death of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24 are an eerie echo of those in years past. Students have been making the same demands over and over again: Yale pledged to expand Yale Mental Health and Counseling services six years ago, but pastoral care continues to be an issue, and the University’s most recent staffing increase falls far short of what students have repeatedly said we need. Why is it that, even after the failures of Yale’s mental health services become realised in students’ desperate pleas, reform still comes too little too late?
The University needs to sincerely reexamine its continued emphasis on its reputation over the well-being of its communities. Yale’s response to Shaw-Rosenbaum’s death seems to lack empathy, perhaps because they are afraid to imply an admission of their culpability. Multiple student op-eds have remarked on the insensitivity of Yale College Dean Marvin Chun’s email that reads, in part: “Ask for help, and you will get it.” Such a statement places the responsibility of recovery — and therefore, any failure to do so — on individual students, and fails to acknowledge the complicated process of getting help at Yale. Even with Yale’s recent expansion of their mental health facilities to include a residential college program, students still struggle to receive immediate care, as long wait times and short staffing of Yale’s mental health centre means that students often wait months before being attended to.
Following Shaw-Rosenbaum’s death, students looked for a place to grieve. Over 500 people attended the virtual wake organised by the administration for the Yale community only to be disappointed when the meeting room was closed after 15 minutes, and students were not permitted to speak. The same administration made changes to an official statement about Shaw-Rosenbaum’s death — one only issued to debunk misinformation about Yale’s withdrawal policies — without publicly acknowledging the change. The statement was amended to include a statement of grief.
Those withdrawal policies are themselves harmful to students. In particular, policies mandating that students on medical withdrawal leave campus within 72 hours of their request being approved — and that they must seek permission from their dean to return to campus during their withdrawal — reveal Yale’s prioritisation of avoiding liability over any genuine care for their students.
The culture of dynamism at Yale, when unchecked, also breeds a culture without rest, reflection or reprieve. It is disappointing that Yale ignores our calls for changes, but it is insulting that in the wake of Shaw-Rosenbaum’s death, it was left to individual professors to decide how much time students could be afforded to mourn. The fact that the Yale administration did not mandate a day off meant that many students were forced to continue work as normal or even harder, after having lost a member of our community. In spite of the weariness and grief we are going through, we are still expected to perform as though we are all exceptional — as though we can trudge on, unaffected by sadness, by stress or by exhaustion.
Ultimately, Yale fails to understand harm because Yale fails to listen. This semester bears witness to that. Yale has given significant consideration towards safely reopening campus during the pandemic, for which it deserves commendation, but it has disregarded the mental hazards that a fully online and condensed semester — without meaningful breaks — poses to students, whether we are on campus, enrolled remotely or on leave.
The administration has chosen to place the welfare of students into the hands of individual professors and deans. The difficulty is that individualising struggles leaves students in the position of having to ask for help where they will not always get it.
Now, student organisations, such as Students Unite Now and Mental Health Justice at Yale have organized to produce a list of demands to the Yale administration of vast changes to MHC much beyond the most recent 14 staff positions added. These include reducing wait times for mental health counseling, diversifying Yale’s therapists, increasing therapy session lengths and providing a year-round subsidized Yale Basic and Hospitalization/Specialty Care plan.
If Yale is to serve as a place of community and learning, it ought to do more to ensure that our education does not come at a cost to our wellbeing. The enduring view of Yalies as immune to regular sources of suffering has meant that, in an already overwhelming and unusual semester, we are not given the space to heal.
Something more has to come from the premature deaths of our peers and our unending struggle for better mental healthcare. Yale cannot continue to expect students to grow and excel in a community and culture that actively stifles us, and then denies us any relief.
In the coming weeks, 2,169 students from across the world will choose whether to attend Yale for the next four years. Can the University assure them and their families that they will be taken care of?