Students Unite Now organizes rally for financial aid transparency and mental health care reform
The rally, which took place in Beinecke Plaza on April 25, featured student testimonies and raised concerns over Yale’s financial aid and mental health care policy.
Tenzin Jordan, Photography Editor
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.
Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7 and confidential.
To talk with a counselor from Yale College Community Care, schedule a session here. On-call counselors from Yale Mental Health and Counseling are available at any time: call (203) 432-0290.
Students who are interested in taking a medical withdrawal should reach out to their residential college dean.
Additional resources are available in a guide compiled by the Yale College Council here.
Members of Students Unite Now took to Beinecke Plaza on Tuesday to rally in support of financial aid transparency and quality mental health support.
The rally featured testimonies from Craig Birckhead-Morton ’24, Simone Felton ’25 and Ivana Ñique ’26, who advocated for transparency in the financial aid process and shorter wait times for mental health services. Organizers also distributed over 500 copies of SUN’s new zine residential college dining halls. The zine is titled “What Should Yale Be For?” and includes 11 additional student testimonies.
“We’ve found that students feel their needs aren’t being met, and they have really pressing demands of this school,” Birckhead-Morton said. “We wanted to use this rally to lay out these complaints. But it’s not really about SUN speaking for students; it’s about everybody having their individual story heard and shared with the broader public.”
Birckhead-Morton spoke to rally attendees about his struggles with mental health on campus and his experience receiving Yale-provided mental health care.
When he first requested mental health care services, Birckhead-Morton told the News he had to wait three months before being matched with a therapist. The University never acknowledged the delay.
“I take this issue very seriously,” Birckhead-Morton said. “Since this experience, there have been two suicides at Yale, both people I’ve personally known. This issue of mental health care is really a matter of life and death for a lot of students.”
Birckhead-Morton began receiving University mental health care in between his first and second year. Now, as he finishes his third year at Yale, he said he still does not feel that there have been significant systemic improvements.
Recently, Birckhead-Morton was informed that his regular therapist was put in charge of a group therapy program and therefore was unable to continue their individual meetings. This situation led him to resort to receiving virtual therapy from a private provider in his home state of Maryland.
“This is dangerous for students from low income backgrounds who don’t have access to private insurance and private mental health care,” he said. “It’s really a matter of equity and accessibility for students.”
Paul McKinley, senior associate dean of strategic initiatives and communications at Yale College, said that the University has taken tangible steps to improve the quality of mental health care on campus.
He pointed to the Yale College Community Care program, established in April 2021. Colloquially known as YC3, the program offers short-term on-demand support from mental health specialists, according to the program website.
“Students have responded very favorably to [YC3], saying that they are able to be seen quickly and to explore their options in convenient locations near their residential colleges,” McKinley wrote in an email to the News.
Paul Hoffman, director of Mental Health and Counseling, added that YC3 and other new hires in the Mental Health and Counseling offices have significantly decreased wait times. MHC has also opened a second office on Whitney Avenue and plans to open a third over the summer, Hoffman wrote in an email to the News.The MHC offices will continue to work to improve mental health access and equity, Hoffman said.
Birckhead-Morton acknowledged YC3, but maintained that he has not seen notable improvement since its implementation. He hopes to see Yale do more, he said, and believes that grassroots efforts like SUN’s are important steps towards policy reform.
Felton also delivered a testimony, speaking about her friends’ negative experiences with University mental healthcare. She advocated specifically for shorter wait times and more frequent therapy opportunities.
“My story is one of playing therapist,” Felton said. “On numerous occasions, I’ve had to support friends who couldn’t access mental healthcare on campus, or who have spent weeks waiting to be matched with a therapist. While I want to support people that I love, I’m unequipped to do that in the same informed way that a healthcare professional can.”
Like Birckhead-Morton, Felton receives mental health care from a private therapist outside of Yale.
Since beginning therapy, Felton has noticed a profound difference in her overall wellbeing. Support of a trained professional, Felton said, has made it possible for her to operate normally as a student in stressful situations.
“As a result of therapy, I have so much more space in my life to develop my emotional and academic self,” Felton said in her speech. “The inadequacies of Yale’s mental healthcare have widened the gap in emotional wellbeing and academic success between students on the basis of socioeconomic status. Yale needs to do more to close that gap”
Ñique was the final speaker at the rally. Shifting the focus away from mental healthcare, she spoke about her experience with the Undergraduate Financial Aid Office.
Ñique is a first-generation college student and the only one of her siblings to attend an Ivy League college, she said. As such, she described entering the matriculation process completely uninformed about how financial aid operates at Yale.
“Before even attending Yale, I had a really rough experience with the financial aid office,” Ñique told the News. “There were countless phone calls back and forth, and there were just a lot of things that I didn’t understand. I felt like I was just being told things to do without any support. Ultimately, the process, for me, lacked a lot of compassion.”
Ñique explained that her financial situation was complicated due to her parents’ divorce. Despite her unique circumstances, she said, her assigned officers were difficult to reach and insensitive.
In response to a situation that she felt was inappropriately managed by her financial aid officer, Ñique attempted to contact the director of financial aid to file a complaint. Despite calling numerous times, Ñique said that she was unable to reach the head of the office.
Alex Muro, acting director of undergraduate financial aid, said that the University gives careful and critical attention to every family’s unique situation.
“The Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid recognizes that every family’s financial situation is different, and we work with all families to help them understand how their financial need is determined,” Muro wrote in an email to the News. “Because some families’ financial situations are quite complicated, this analysis can – in some cases – require multiple requests for documentation.”
In an email to the News, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan encouraged students concerned about their financial aid to connect with undergraduate financial aid officers.
He pointed to virtual appointments, business-hour phone calls and email as spaces for admitted or enrolled students to pose questions about financial aid.
In terms of desired action by the University administration, Ñique said she wants to see the implementation of a system to offer feedback and anonymously disclose concerns and complaints about financial aid.
“There really needs to be more transparency in how interactions between students and financial officers are handled and recorded,” Ñique said. “If there were some sort of feedback form where students could rate their interactions, then the office could specifically respond and evaluate the system.”
Birckhead-Morton, Felton and Ñique all emphasized the significance of the rally taking place during Bulldog Days.
They said that it is important for prefrosh to be aware of some of Yale’s shortcomings as they decide whether to matriculate in the Fall.
“Ultimately, I don’t think anyone is really arguing ‘Yale is bad,’” Ñique said. “Because if that were the case, then why would any of us be here? I just think it’s about acknowledging that there are components and layers to this institution that should be reevaluated and looked further upon.You have this beautiful architecture, all of these resources, yet at the same time, everyone’s experience isn’t really equal.”
SUN was founded in 2012.
Correction 4/26: A inaccurate link in the resources at the start of the previous version of this article has been updated.