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Students of color met with university administrators and the Division of Public Safety on Friday morning regarding harsh, racially insensitive group messages sent to Penn students.

Credit: Julio Sosa

In an email to all undergraduates on Tuesday, April 19 — the second after Wharton junior Ao “Olivia” Kong’s suicide — the administration announced new changes to address mental health.

According to the email, hours at Counseling and Psychological Services would be extended “in the interim,” effective April 20. Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, the vice provost of university life, said the duration of this interim period has not yet been determined.

“We are going to get feedback from students,” she said. “We’ll look at the use of the services and make an evaluation based on what students tell us, what has been useful.”

Attached to the email was a “Help a Friend Guide,” which Cade said had been written about three years ago by a group of students, CAPS staff and Cade herself.

“For a long time we’ve known there’s got to be multiple avenues for students to access,” she said. “It’s important to reiterate messaging and to use different strategies.”

The email also thanked the efforts of student groups Active Minds and Penn Benjamins.

“Student peer groups are another one of key access points,” Cade said. “Students may tell things to another student that they might not want to say to a faculty member or a staff member.”

Even though previous emails on mental health resources have come from President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price, Cade said she felt it was important to make her voice heard, largely because of how connected she feels to the University. Gutmann’s office declined to make her available to comment for this story.

“I love this university and even though I don’t know all [the students], all of [the students] are precious to me, so I wanted to be able to add my voice to the messaging that when out,” she said.

Peter Moon, college junior and co-president of student mental health group Active Minds, praised the email.

“I always think it’s really great when the university acknowledges the work that student groups are doing,” he said.

He found the Help a Friend Guide helpful and well put-together. He said that many of the things listed on the Guide are in line with what the Active Minds National organization promotes, and consistent with the I-CARE training model.

“It seems like the university did their research and I like that,” he said. “I thought a lot of the minor tips were important, like the theme of getting people to CAPS when it becomes something you can’t handle yourself.”

Recent emails from the administration about addressing mental health have not included Kong’s name, but Moon is not concerned.

“I think with any student death it often comes down to the wishes of the family, it’s something I’m not sure every student fully recognizes,” he said. “It often leads to what students perceive as the university trying to cover things up or shut things down.”

Cade agreed that using Kong’s name wasn’t necessary. “As I thought about what to say to all of you, I wanted to be respectful of anyone in the community that we had lost.”

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