Chants of “Do better, be better, SCU” rang out over the trickling of the fountain in front of Mission Church at Santa Clara University on Thursday afternoon.
Students had gathered in between classes to demand policy changes by university administrators to the school’s mental health services following the death of three students this quarter — two of whom died by suicide.
Megan Wu, a junior and one of the organizers of the rally, said she’s frustrated by the lack of accessible and equitable mental health services on campus.
“It should not be taking student deaths to get us better mental health resources,” she said. “I think we’re all united behind this common sentiment with being really frustrated with the inaction of our university.”
Wu and other student organizers are asking administrators to hire more BIPOC and LGBTQ counselors, extend hours for crisis services and invest more in the university’s wellness center.
Following the rally, the president of the university’s board of trustees committed several million dollars to mental health resources, a source familiar with the situation confirmed.
After the most recent death over the weekend, the Office of the Provost sent out an email about academic leniency, stating that the university would allow undergraduate students to select a pass or no pass grading option for the fall term. The email also included information about campus mental health resources.
In a statement, university spokesperson Deepa Arora said that Counseling and Psychological Services was offering a 24/7 support line for students in light of the most recent death.
“On Sunday night there was crisis support staff available in Benson Memorial Center for students,” she added. “This week, we have on site support for students in two residence halls. SCU has also partnered with KARA grief services for the students.”
After the board’s monetary commitment Thursday afternoon, Wu said she believes the decision was due to student pressure.
“I don’t see it coming from a place of empathy, but rather as a way to placate the general student body because they understand we are frustrated with them,” she said.
Tatyana Foltz, a social worker and former case manager at the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services program, said the school’s mental health services have been inadequate for years. Despite leaving the university four years ago, she attended Thursday’s rally to support the students that she says have suffered under administrators.
“I think the very culture of Santa Clara needs to be shifted,” she said. “They need to listen to the students and not see them as a liability to manage, but as a resource that needs to be heard.”
Saunders Smithwick, a senior at the university, said it’s been “abundantly clear that the university hasn’t been doing enough.” She’s an EMT on campus and says that while they deal with a range of calls, many of them are related to mental health.
“I would like to see more infrastructure to actually create a health and wellness building on campus,” she said. “We have a clinic. It’s pretty small, but I think there needs to be a bigger building and off site therapists coming in to have more appointments.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, round-the-clock support, information and resources for help. Reach the lifeline at 800-273-8255. You can also text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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Author: Grace Hase