A collective of student leaders have collaborated on an “Open Letter to Binghamton University,” advocating for stronger mental health support on campus.
The letter was signed by The Coalition for Student Mental Health, a working group formed at meetings organized by the Human Development Association (HDA). It calls for changes in the University’s post-crisis response planning, including a mandatory cancellation of classes the day of and the day after tragic incidents for the community to come together, process and grieve.
The Baccalaureate of Social Work (BSW) Ambassadors, the Social Work Undergraduate Union (SWUU), the Human Development Peer Advisers, the Binghamton Policy Project and the Binghamton Treblemakers are among the coalition’s members. HDA representatives shared some of the initiative’s goals.
“We hope to work with the University to create more mental health resources for students and faculty on campus,” they wrote. “Additionally, we hope to increase accessibility of and knowledge about resources that already exist on campus. A particularly important aspect of this effort is increasing transparency and communication between the administration and the student body.”
Aside from changes in class cancellation policies, the letter advocates prohibiting professors from covering new material and assigning coursework, as well as the postponement of exams and major projects. It also calls for comprehensive mental health training for all faculty, staff and those employed by Residential Life, as well as changes to University Counseling Center (UCC) policy.
“Although [the University] offers multiple pathways of mental health support, the student body is pushing for improvements to the mental health system,” the letter reads.
The UCC currently offers individual counseling in a solutions-focused “brief therapy model,” which involves a student meeting with a staff professional for 45 to 50 minutes typically on a bi-weekly basis. The office’s website says that it will refer issues requiring long-term therapy to a community provider.
A University spokesperson did not provide a response to Pipe Dream’s request for comment about the suggested academic policy changes.
Christopher Downey, the University’s director of health and counseling, encouraged students to view the UCC”s frequently asked questions and brief therapy overview pages, adding that many different resources are available to students depending on their needs.
“[BU] is making substantial investments in staffing and other resources in the areas of wellness and student success,” Downey wrote in an email. “The University prioritizes the mental health of students and takes a holistic approach that includes a range of prevention and intervention services. The [UCC] is not the only resource on campus that addresses a student’s mental health, however it provides a wide range of services, such as consultations, individual therapy, same-day urgent counseling, group counseling [and] workshops, treatment coordination for off-campus referrals and outreach.”
The letter also calls upon University administration to advocate for additional financial resources from both the SUNY system and New York state’s government.
“We decided to join the [mental health] coalition because we believe that all students should have equal, easy and equitable access to mental health resources,” the Human Development Peer Advisers wrote. “We stand with the coalition and the open letter and would be more than happy to help out in any way we can going forward.”
After the “open letter” initiative, some coalition members are looking ahead toward the creation of a “Student Mental Health Council,” housed within the Student Association. The body would connect student leaders with administration, streamlining the advocacy process.
In a statement, the BSW Ambassadors and the SWUU described the effort as mirroring their goals as an organization.
“As undergraduate social work students and students whose values align with human rights, we knew [that] The Coalition for Student Mental Health was a movement we would support,” the E-Board wrote. “Advocating for mental health is not only a passion but a necessity.”