D ear Penn,
We are well aware of the fact that the DP Opinion section has been saturated lately with articles about mental health on campus, and the last thing we want to do is make the matter seem less important than it is. However, this article is different. It comes from the perspective of a group of students stemming from diverse backgrounds who represent the Penn community and who have expressed a genuine desire to aid their peers over the last two years.
Two years ago, Penn students and the CAPS staff came together to establish the CAPS Student Advisory Board. The board was established as a way to understand the Penn community and find the best possible way to serve it. They thought, “What better way is there to understand what students need than to ask them ourselves?” This year is the first year in which the board has been divided up into subcommittees designed to consult CAPS: the student liaison, policies and procedures and mental health advocacy subcommittees.
It took time to devise a plan of action strong enough to impact the lives of students in a positive way, but still sensitive enough to avoid making anyone feel worse about themselves or alienated from the rest of the student body. We were encouraged to share our personal experiences with the group in an open and nonjudgmental environment for the sole purpose of helping CAPS learn better ways to connect with the population they were serving. Everything seemed to be going well, and our first initiatives were our biggest ones.
Then everything changed and our plans were postponed as the Penn community mourned the loss of multiple students due to something we all not only hold near and dear to our hearts, but had also been working so hard to fight against: mental illness. The events devastated and shocked the members of the board. Everyone felt as though the entire student body had turned its back on CAPS and denounced its services. As students with first-hand experience, we know how devoted the staff is to the cause, but didn’t know how to communicate that to the rest of the university.
In meeting with the staff, they seemed as though they had been tested, but their responses to our questions were comforting and reassuring. They reassured us that their main concern was helping the grieving community and any negativity should be regarded as constructive criticism, giving them the motivation and information needed to work towards strengthening the Penn community.
Reforming the mental health climate on campus will not happen overnight, but there are steps that each of us can take to move towards the healthier campus that we want to be part of. We encourage everyone reading this to take the pledge printed with this article. The pledge tells your friends, classmates and the Penn community that you are committed to creating an environment conducive to mental health. Just as we were given an open and nonjudgmental environment to provide feedback to CAPS, we would like to foster that same environment as the campus works towards making a change.
During the upcoming Mental Wellness Week, events will be held to promote mental health and wellness on campus. Among those participating will be the CAPS staff, student organizations and individuals who want nothing more than to see the students of Penn happy and healthy. We hope to see the Penn community come out and support each other.
CAPS Student Advisory Board