Guest Column by Ernest Owens | CAPS is not the only asylum

· February 2, 2014, 6:10 pm   ·  Updated February 2, 2014, 9:31 pm

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Over the past few weeks, there has been a great deal of debate surrounding the need for increased mental health resources at CAPS. And while I do agree that this facility needs to be more efficient in reaching out to students who schedule appointments, I beg for everyone to look around elsewhere. No, please do not feel the need to look off campus, but take a look around your college house, cultural center and other similar places. They might be just as helpful, if not better, for you in the long run.

Earlier in my college career, I was under deep stress and disappointment of my freshman experience first semester. The first month I came to Penn, I was cyber-bullied on various college blogs, lost a class board election that was highly publicized and was trying to adapt to life on the East Coast as a low-income, openly gay black student. I knew no one before I came here and adjusting to the new academic and social culture was difficult. I initially took the first step of visiting CAPS, and it really did nothing to help remedy my problems. I felt isolated, out of place, and the environment was not helpful to assuring me that staying at Penn was worthwhile.

It was not until the chaplain of this university, Charles Howard, reached out to me and things began to make sense. Perhaps it was because he was a black man who also attended Penn and understood the stress that comes with holding leadership positions that made me more responsive. Or perhaps it was the fact that I did not feel intimidated by his presence that made my opening up to him easier. Whatever the case may be, I realized that my guidance from him gave me the strength and support to overcome those previous setbacks at Penn to now make it to a successful senior year.

I say all of this to encourage the student body to not underestimate the various campus resources that may not appear under the banner of mental health but may just be the right place to go to resolve your personal issues. From the Women’s Center to Makuu, the mentors and advisors there can provide you the kind of support you need. They can also help to shift the culture of fear that pervades this campus … something that CAPS has yet to address.

Because at the end of the day, mental health facilities such as CAPS can only help treat your stresses, but not that of the community you will have to go back to. Seeking other resources to facilitate this dialogue will help our campus not only resist relying so heavily on Band-Aids for these problems, but will help it find cures to them as well. So instead of waiting for the next UA resolution or administrative policy, start looking around within your own social asylums already in place.

I did, and I feel just fine.

Ernest Owens is a College senior from Chicago, Ill. His email address is owense@sas.upenn.edu. You can follow him @MrErnestOwens

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