In the midst of reading days — which many consider to be the most stressful time of the semester — administrators and students gathered in the Harnwell College House Rooftop Lounge to conduct a forum on mental well-being at Penn.
"Mental Health at Penn: A Community Forum and Working Space" served as a two-hour discussion of mental health on campus; it was followed by a workshop between students and administrators. The event was moderated by College senior and founder of Penn Wellness Ben Bolnick and was co-hosted by Penn Wellness, the Penn Undergraduate Assembly and The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Students questioned administrators on a number of issues including interactions between students and professors, pass/fail policies and the administration’s response to student suicides. The discussion also addressed transparency in the mental health task force — which currently does not include students — and what many view as the highly competitive culture at Penn.
Administrators who spoke with students at the event included Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, Director of Student Intervention Services Sharon Smith, and co-chair of the recently reconvened mental health taskforce Rebecca Bushnell.
When confronted with criticism about the lack of student presence on the mental health taskforce, Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning for the Provost Office Rob Nelson responded by saying that the task force is “made up of the senior leaders of the University” who work “with students on a daily basis.”
Though the task force does not include student representatives, it creates its recommendations “out of consultations with students,” he added. “It also is designed to give the task force and that group of administrators the space to have conversations that aren’t exactly in the public eye, so that we have a chance to talk about what really needs to happen in a way that would be difficult to do if there was more of a public dimension to it.”
Bolnick said the two goals of the event were to increase transparency between and communication between students and administrators, as well as to inform students about ongoing campus projects that deal with mental health.
Though some students questioned how University policies affect mental health, much of the discussion focused on the role that individuals can play in fostering a healthy environment at Penn.
“I think we all have to take some ownership of this,” Wharton Director of Student Life Lee Kramer said.
Bolnick described three initiatives that may be launched within the next year in order to provide more resources to students. These included a new CAPS app, a freshman discussion group project and “Welcome to Freshman” Tents for NSO. Students were encouraged to contribute possible policy changes.
“Students have the power to shape their educational environment,” Nelson said. “These are things that we can fix.”
“The real change is going to come from the individual,” Bolnick said. “This has got to be the start for these conversations.”Comments powered by Disqus
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