Students chanting and holding posters took to the University of Connecticut seal Wednesday, demanding better mental health care from the university’s Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS).
Katharine Morris, founder of UConn Collaborative Organizing (UCCO), put together the demonstration that marched from the seal to the board of trustees meeting in Wilbur Cross.
“We are here because mental health has been an issue my entire time here at UConn, but more prominently the fact that two of our students committed suicide within a month of each other,” Morris said. “That’s how we ended last semester and how we started this semester.”
Morris said that many of the problems with CMHS lead back to insufficient funds.
“We have a list of questions for the university, but we basically just need more care,” Morris said. “We need more options available and more equality in those options. We need more diversity and practitioners. We need more funding and more staff to support the students.”
Danny Mitola, a seventh-semester sustainable plant and soil systems and English major, said he was not surprised by the lack of mental healthcare on campus.
“I was not surprised, and that’s not a good thing,” Mitola said. “I had a tough time my freshman year, so if there was more support and fewer wait times when getting help for mental health, maybe things would have been different.”
Mitola said the administration is not seeking student input.
“We are here, and we need help and we are asking for help and they should provide that help,” Mitola said.
Students said the administration is not prioritizing mental healthcare the same way they do physical healthcare.
“I really think it’s blasphemy, I walk around and I can’t even believe this is happening,” Riya Benkat, second-semester marketing major said. “Especially at a university like UConn that prides itself on being supportive of its students, so we are being supported physically but mentally there is just nothing.”
Benkat said her own connections to mental health brought her to the march.
“Mental health is regular health and I think that’s important to understand,” Benkat said. “I have personal ties and have seen the effects of mental health up close. You really don’t know what it’s like ‘til you’re standing in those shoes so it’s important to be here to help people understand the extent of mental health.”
Benkat said she expected more from CMHS when she started at UConn last semester.
“I definitely had bigger expectations for the quality of mental health care since UConn is a bigger university, but the atmosphere isn’t great,” Benkat said. “I wouldn’t call it hostile here, but everyone is just walking around doing their own thing and I don’t feel like it’s a community.”
Benkat clarified that joining a learning community made it easier to build connections at school.
“If I didn’t have my learning community now, it would be way harder to find supportive social circles, and I know tons of freshmen start from scratch where they don’t know anyone in their building and that can be hard,” Benkat said.
Students at the march said they want to be heard and raise awareness among the student and faculty population on campus.
“I’m hoping to see some people look our way, be curious and inquire,” Benkat said. “I hope students and administration see why we are making noise, get some awareness going and make a statement about how pissed people are about the state of mental health on campus.”
Naiela Suleiman is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.