The University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government discussed mental health, wellness and diversity at this year’s first in-person senate Wednesday night.
The meeting opened with a statement from Eleanor JB Daugherty, the associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, regarding the university’s progress in prioritizing students’ mental health and well-being.
“One of the things that was very clear to us in early 2019 was that we were missing the mark with how we were approaching mental health,” Daugherty said. “And the answer that we came back with is, if UConn wants to be amazing in caring about everyone and understanding the complexity of mental health, we cannot see this as something that we can resolve with an appointment. Rather, we need to be a university that changes its culture.”
Following Daugherty’s statement, Kristina Stevens, the director of mental health at Student Health and Wellness, presented data showing improvement in students’ access to mental health care over the past two years.
According to Stevens, there has been a 72% increase in screenings. The wait time between a call and first screening appointment has decreased by 35% to an average of two days. The wait time between the screening and a follow-up assessment has decreased by 51% to an average of five days.
Stevens then discussed the significance of providing all SHaW staff members with diversity, equity and inclusion training.
“We want to make sure that the work we do and deliver is trauma-informed and culturally informed,” Stevens said. “That’s the kind of service we want to be able to deliver, so it’s important that everybody have that mindset, have that training, have that support and supervision.”
Stevens also mentioned the addition of two new positions: a multicultural specialist and a director of multicultural training.
Another main topic presented at the meeting was mental health transports and how they are anticipated to change in the future.
“[A mental-health transport] is for a student who is in a position of crisis or concern, where we are not comfortable walking away, where we feel like an intervention is needed,” Daugherty said.
Connecticut law states that either a licensed therapist or a police officer is authorized to take a student to the hospital, according to Daugherty. At UConn, both licensed therapists and police officers are used in the transport process.
Daugherty emphasized the importance of having an officer and clinician work together on mental-health transports, as opposed to just an officer.
“It’s well-meaning,” Daugherty said. “These officers are doing the best that they can with the knowledge and skills that they have. But that’s not the outcome we want … We should never leave a colleague alone in the making of a decision. We should be giving that police officer access to that clinician, as well as that student, as well as the staff that’s on call, so we can make the right decision for the student in crisis.”
Under the new proposed mental health transport process, SHaW will be contacted first for mental health-related incidents, and the UConn Police Department will be called in the event of harmful or threatening behavior. A SHaW counselor will then determine the mode of transport for a student and schedule an appointment for the day after the crisis.
Next, Karen McComb, SHaW director of health promotion and community impact, described this year’s objectives for the wellness coalition, an initiative that “implements interconnected strategies, creating a culture of care and responsibility to support life-long learning and the well-being of all UConn Huskies,” according to its mission statement.
Among the wellness coalition’s draft objectives are launching a website and communications plan, developing an assessment and impact work team and developing a consulting team for operationalizing equity.
The senate concluded with a presentation by Franklin Tuitt, UConn’s chief diversity officer, on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s priorities for the 2021-22 academic year.
According to Tuitt, ODI’s priorities are student-DEI engagement; faculty and staff diversity, support and engagement; DEI strategy, infrastructure/capacity and planning; and university-wide outreach, engagement and advocacy.
The university aims to become a just and anti-racist institution by “increasing and retaining structural diveristy, improving the climate for DEI, enhancing and expanding academic offerings focused on DEI, and by providing or pursuing financial resources to support these initiatives,” Tuitt said.