The University of Connecticut’s Student Health and Wellness (SHaW) department and the Undergraduate Student Government held a mental health workshop to meet with students.
“It’s about the impactful conversations that we have during it and I’m really happy that people are taking their time to talk to the staff and get to know them, then come over to us, that’s the point,” Becky Feldman, sixth-semester civil engineering major and member of the mental health and wellness subcommittee of USG, said. “We want to be transparent. We’re not trying to be friends, but we’re trying to get that link connected.”
After President Thomas Katsouleas announced a partnership with the JED Foundation and the hiring of six new mental health clinicians last week, SHaW and USG met with interested students to establish a link between the department and the audience they service.
“Students feel that our mental health resources are not meeting, what I would call, the evolving needs of our student population,” Executive Director of SHaW Suzanne Onorato said.
Among the concerns of the students, according to Onorato, is the access to mental health care, wait times, which resources would be useful to the students and how to come together to create change.
“Accessibility and finding creative ways to be accessible, so maybe looking at different technologies, or different ways or different modalities to make sure that students get to us at the right time that they need,” Dr. Jennifer Petro, Assistant Director of SHaW, said Monday. “A lot of the things that we’ve built in to be accessible, it’s made us think about how we market that and be creative about helping people know that we’re available and also meeting students where they’re at.”
Their ultimate goal, according to Onorato, is to move forward with a more connected front from administration, USG and JED.
“What I got most out of this is that UConn is trying, UConn administration is giving mental health on campus their attention,” Michael Monaco, sixth-semester environmental engineering student, said. “I’m glad that they see there is a major problem and they’re taking this seriously.”
Lori Masters of SHaW also outlined what the future alongside the JED Foundation will look like. She said it was a four-step process where they will evaluate the policies and procedures in place as well as the current mental health climate on campus. Then they will conduct a survey, which came out Monday. They are to come in April to review their findings and tour campus, they will also speak to a USG designated group of students. Finally, they will meet with administration and come up with a strategic plan for new policies and share student feedback.
“We all need to be evaluated,” Feldman said. “Our professors need to be evaluated. The school of course should be evaluated. I’m so happy there’s this third party and that is a partnership between USG, SHaW and the university.”
While called a town hall, the format wasn’t quite the usual one speaker to large audience, it was an open form discussion with representatives at table for students to walk up to. There were multiple representatives from SHaW and USG available to discuss with students.
“One of the biggest things about creating this space, specifically the town hall forum, was to give students an opportunity to directly interact with the administration of SHaW mental health and furthermore, to give them the opportunity to have their voices heard,” Abhishek Gupta, eighth-semester biology and sociology double major, said.
Feldman mentioned that they intend to keep reaching out to students in different ways in the future, including some tabling events and further town hall-type events.
Gupta also mentioned they will also be presenting the Board of Trustees with a list of questions about their opinions on the future of mental health on campus.
“These are our lives, and this is our health,” Feldman said. “We are here for a holistic education, we’re here to be a real, whole person and you can’t be without our mental health in check.”