When Penn administrators welcomed the Class of 2018 last year, their message to students was to engage the world.
To illustrate her point, Penn President Amy Gutmann had everyone get on their feet and shake hands with a stranger — having them literally engage with future world leaders they haven’t met yet.
And while administrators surely still want Penn students to take advantage of the amazing opportunities they have on campus — in the spirit of the theme year, “Discovery,” Gutmann once again asked students to introduce themselves to their neighbors — their message at last Tuesday night’s Convocation Ceremony had a second, more compelling message than in previous years: Students, take care of yourself.
It’s no secret that Penn is in the midst of dealing with a serious problem with mental health. Over the course of 15 months, six students committed suicide. Penn students are extremely stressed and overwhelmed and too often pretend that everything is okay.
In light of these clear mental health gaps on campus, it’s heartening to see Penn administrators addressing mental health with transparency to incoming freshmen, before they become overwhelmed with classes and schoolwork and clubs and jobs. Penn administrators are finally taking clear responsibility for mental health on campus, which is their job. This is an important step for an administration that has struggled to deal with mental health issues on campus in the past, notably in leaving out student voices on the Mental Health Task Force and then, last fall, in insufficiently communicating with students after a campus suicide.
Although addressing freshmen about mental health from day one is progress, it won’t completely solve Penn’s mental health problems. While Penn has implemented some changes to improve mental health on campus, including the creation of a 24/7 helpline, several recommendations from the Mental Health Task Force, including clarifying leave of absence policies and centralizing campus health resources on one website have yet to be implemented.
It’s up to both Penn students and the administration to continue addressing mental health issues on campus. Administrators need to implement all recommendations from the Mental Health Task Force Report, as well as continue to reduce wait times at Counseling and Psychological Services. Students should also help foster a culture where they and their fellow classmates can feel comfortable discussing mental health.
Penn is the sum of its parts, and as University Chaplain Chaz Howard said on Monday night, the life of every student is important. Students should take care of themselves as President Gutmann, Provost Vincent Price and Chaplain Howard urged, and it’s important they know when sadness, depression or even just a bad day happens, there are counseling resources available for them.
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