Photo by Brenda Lin

Last Sunday, student leaders  gathered along with select members of Tech’s administration in the Student Center to discuss the state of mental health at the
institute.

The event, officially termed the “Mental Health Summit,” began with introductions by Samantha Holloway, the director of the Mental Health Coalition and president of the Student Center Programs Council (SCPC), as well as Dillon Roseen, former President of undergraduate Student Government Association (SGA). Lynn Durham, Chief of Staff to Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson, was the speaker for the first plenary session.

“One exciting thing right now is the Academic Environment Task Force which Provost Bras has brought about,” Durham said. “We really found through the Mental Health Task Force that the academic pressures [students] go through, we didn’t really understand. And whether it’s because of relationships with professors who aren’t particularly helpful or whether it’s just the sheer amount of work, or whatever it is, I think we as administrators really didn’t have a good handle on that.”

According to Durham, the Academic Environment Task Force is examining this discrepancy between what students should be able to expect from professors and what they often receive presently. Durham also commended the changes to the Counseling Center, which included the addition of a new staff member as well as the increased awareness of mental health issues on campus, which, according to Durham, is demonstrated by the fact that discussions about mental health are now taking place whereas they were not a few years ago.

Following the first plenary session of the Summit, facilitators, staff and students split up to take part in two of four “breakout” meetings. Topics for the breakouts were Academics, Campus Life Infrastructure, Counseling and Psychiatric Services and Student Involvement and Resources.

Marc Canellas, President of Graduate SGA, brought up during the Academics breakout that professors’ lackadaisical-ness may lead to increased stress for students. He gave the example of asking a professor to fix something and described that, in his experience, the problem would still be unsolved six months later.

“Is there a way to anonymously go to a professor for help?” asked another student. “Because I know, sometimes, I’m legitimately scared of my professor, and I’m going to have a panic attack if I go to office hours.”

To this, Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students John Stein responded that students with chronic conditions should register with disability services in order to make use of liaison opportunities. He also added that professors who have not dealt with anxiety will not understand the challenges in dealing with it.

“Apparently, the other day [in an aerospace class], one of the professors said, ‘If you don’t understand this concept, you should go shoot yourself,’” said another student present at the summit when discussing the need for professors to go through a form of “sensitivity training.”

Lunch took place after the breakout groups concluded, and Stein spoke during the second plenary session which immediately followed.

“In tenth grade, someone came over the speaker … and announced that we very going to have a moment of reflection because one of our classmates had passed away,” said Stein. “No explanation was offered as to what had happened. Eventually, rumors started to emerge … and the s-word came about: ‘suicide.’”

According to Stein, this was unimaginable at the time. Even following the incident, there was no talk of it anywhere. Stein added that this experience was very important in shaping his outlook on mental health issues today.

After the plenary had concluded, student leaders joined together in groups of five to seven in order to come up with ideas for avenues and action points that could be exploited to distribute mental health information to the campus. The groups then came together to present their ideas. Many proposals centered around expansions of GT1000.