On Saturday, April 2, Binghamton University students received a B-Line News Addition mourning graduate student Robert Martin’s passing. Originally from Syracuse, New York, and a goalkeeper for the BU men’s lacrosse team, hundreds of attendees gathered at Martin’s on-campus memorial service on Monday, April 11 to honor his life. Several of Martin’s teammates spoke positively of Martin’s optimism on and off the field. They also spoke on the importance of mental health, bringing in John Timm, ‘21, a BU alumnus who founded the No Man Sits Alone campaign. The website states that the campaign’s mission “is to convince men who are struggling to talk about their problems and be open to external help.” As part of this campaign, Timm builds and sells Adirondack chairs to promote his campaign with the hopes that every man who sees these chairs remembers they are not alone, combating the idea that men who struggle with mental health are weak. Some of these chairs will be donated to the University and Downtown Binghamton in Martin’s memory.
It is no secret that men struggle with mental health at higher rates than women. Faced with constant pressure to be strong, to hide their emotions — to be manly — force men to address their problems in secrecy, or not to address them at all. The consequences of this stigma are deadly.
Here at BU, mental health services are few and far in between. With only 16 counselors employed by the University Counseling Center (UCC) for over 10 times the amount of students, appointments are notoriously hard to obtain, and even harder to keep. Conveniently, UCC brands its inaccessibility as a unique form of psychotherapy called “brief therapy” that supposedly “helps to keep the meetings focused and productive.” While its website may use words like “solution-oriented” and “autonomy” to describe brief therapy model, the truth is that UCC simply isn’t equipped to provide long-term therapy to students, even if it tried. The Center is vastly understaffed, and they will refer anyone dealing with more intensive concerns to external resources. Concerns that warrant an external referral include, but are not limited to, drug or alcohol problems, eating disorder symptoms, ADHD testing, suicidal thoughts, self-harm or “evidence or risk of progressive deterioration in mental or emotional functioning.” In simple terms, some of the most common mental health issues on campus cannot be addressed on campus.
With UCC proving insufficient, students are forced to look to external counseling centers. This brings up issues of transportation, accessibility and anonymity. While students may need or want counseling, it is likely that very few are willing to have these conversations with their family. One of the most appealing aspects of UCC is that appointments are free, eliminating the need for students to discuss insurance, cost or details surrounding their own mental health with their parents if they don’t want to.
One on-campus community resource UCC recommends is the Consultation, Advocacy, Referral and Education (CARE) Team. It is worth mentioning that as of writing this editorial, the hyperlink to the CARE Team’s page on the UCC website does not work. CARE Team is run by case managers who provide even shorter-term care than UCC. They are not counselors or therapists, but merely advocates who assist students with existing issues. One of the CARE Team’s advocacy partners is the Office of Interpersonal Violence Prevention (IVP), yet students should be aware of the fact that the CARE Team is not confidential, meaning they are mandated Title IX reporters.
Extending beyond some of the University-related resources, there are some student-run organizations that focus on mental health. The Mental Health Outreach Peer Educators (M-HOPE) group works to educate BU students and reduce harmful stigma, but these efforts do little to prevent true mental health crises. The students passionate enough to educate their peers on mental health are admirable, but they are far from the increased amount of experienced and trained counselors this campus needs.
However, Rob Martin’s passing brings up another important point of conversation. That is, mental health among athletes specifically. In the two weeks following Martin’s death, many student-athletes at BU have been circling posts on social media emphasizing the importance of mental health resources not just for men, but for all athletes on campus. One post circulating on Instagram is a brief message written by Hannah Dintino, a junior lacrosse player at Furman University. Dintino writes that “Although the concept has been around for generations, a light has only recently been shed on what kinds of pressures student-athletes face on a daily basis. On top of this, our society is still working toward an identity that relieves the pressures men might feel to ‘achieve manhood’ or ‘show resilience’ regardless of their situation.”
Student-athletes face unique pressures unlike that of the general student body. This is not to imply that non-athletes do not face mental hardship, but rather that student-athletes may face individualized stressors as a result of their chosen sports. For starters, the draw of athletics depends on a high-risk, high-reward environment. Athletes are often encouraged to push themselves to the limit, both physically and mentally, to bring success to themselves and their team. Practices go late and workouts start early. Adding any extracurricular to an academic schedule is a commitment in itself, but athletics are especially demanding in regard to both time and physicality. For student-athletes facing such constant pressure to perform, failure feels all the worse. Therefore, athletes need proper resources to cope with these heightened emotions and experiences.
On BU’s athletics website, there is an entire page labeled “Student-Athlete Affairs Wellness” with resources targeting everything from career to financial wellness. Under the emotional wellness section is a sentence describing emotional wellness as the “ability to understand and share our feelings in a productive manner, cope with life’s challenges (resiliency), practice self-care, create satisfying relationships and know when to ask for help.” However, only two of the eight resources listed are unique to athletes. First, there is the Athletic Department’s Student-Athlete Mental Health & Well-Being Committee, which discusses mental health in attempt to raise awareness among students and coaches. Second are the NCAA Student-Athlete Mental Health Modules — a compilation of 11 interactive modules that invite student-athletes to reflect on the state of their mental health.
These two components of emotional wellness pale in comparison to the abundance of resources targeting athletes’ physical health. While the athletics department is equipped with eight different athletic trainers, all of which specialize in different sports, there is only one senior counselor employed by BU athletics for student-athletes from all 19 sports teams to visit. This ratio is both shameful and absurd.
To be clear, all of the resources mentioned above are well meaning and important to our campus community. The Editorial Board is not placing blame for insufficient resources for students on any individual employee, counselor, case manager or student. Rather, the issue lies in the fact that these are the only resources we have, and they are severely limited considering the sheer amount of students our campus serves. That problem — like many others — lies solely with BU administration. While students may take it upon themselves to lobby for better resources, administrators like BU President Harvey Stenger are the ones with the power to actually do something about it.
Though many administrators may be quick to blame a lack of resources on a lack of money, this is simply not the case. The recent Campaign Launch Day hosted by BU on Saturday, April 9 only emphasizes this fact. The Launch Day was fueled by a campaign labeled “EXCELERATE: Moving at the Speed of Binghamton” meant to elicit money from alumni to be invested in internships, academic programs, student scholarships and faculty research. Currently, EXCELERATE has raised $151 million of its $220 million goal.
The EXCELERATE campaign shows that the University is clearly capable of raising massive amounts of money at the drop of a hat. For the campaign to focus on accessibility without citing any plans to invest a morsel of the $220 million goal into mental health services should make every administrator and alumnus feel ashamed of this University. Pouring money into more state-of-the-art buildings that gentrify our community will not improve student well-being. Psychologists, counselors and crisis centers will. The BU Foundation office has a massive stake in directing alumni investments, and improvements to counseling centers should be treated just as, if not more, critically as academic centers. The EXCELERATE campaign’s goal is more than twice the amount raised by any previous University campaign, proving that there is always money to be used — or rather, money to be raised.
As the BU campus returns to normal, with lifted mask mandates, in-person classes and regular school breaks, it is vital for administrators to remember that normal never meant good. In fact, a return to the normalcy of fall 2019 means a return to the same inadequacy of many resources on campus, with mental health arguably being the most important. Mental health has significantly worsened throughout the pandemic, and administrative investments need to reflect that. Sending out the same B-Line News Addition script with the same resources does nothing to honor the memory of students like Martin. Students, and student-athletes especially, deserve better.
If Stenger wants to solicit money based on the concept of creating the “University of Tomorrow,” perhaps he should recall that our students must be healthy and well enough to see it.