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Editorial: When it comes to mental health, the university should put their money where their mouth is

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If the university really wants to promote mental health and wellbeing on our campus, it is time for them to act

As the last days of April faded into the early hours of the first of May, university students received the customary email from President Dennis announcing the start of National Mental Health Awareness Month. 

The email included a link to the Student Life Virtual Hub, where students are encouraged to “learn about counseling, activities, events and other resources to help promote [their] health and wellbeing.”

After exploring this page and its various attachments and links, it becomes apparent that the majority of these attempts to provide support to struggling students are largely performative, albeit well-intentioned.

One of the university’s newest creations is the Blue Hen Wellbeing Community, a voluntary Canvas course where students can “connect with peers, choose [their] own learning adventure, and improve [their] overall wellbeing.” 

Upon joining the Blue Hen Wellbeing Community, students have access to a variety of online “assignments” to engage them in different forms of mindfulness, with a new focus each month. While the extent of the course is impressive, and there was certainly plenty of time and effort poured into its development, the majority of the modules address surface-level issues and are no substitute for professional mental health care.

Other attempts by the university to accommodate student mental health needs have failed altogether, such as the two Blue Hen Re-Coop days that replaced spring break this semester. Not only did some professors continue to assign work, others completely ignored the Re-Coop day and hosted classes, seemingly unaware that they were supposed to cancel. As a result, students spent their “days off” attending class and frantically catching up on assignments. 

Meanwhile, the university has suspended possibly the most helpful option previously available to students struggling academically during the COVID-19 pandemic: the modified pass/no credit grading option. 

This decision is justified in a Spring 2021 Academic Regulations FAQ, which states that the modified pass/no credit grading system was “implemented to support sudden and unexpected disruption to academic schedules and course delivery” and that “transitioning back to standard grading will help connect students with appropriate academic support services and provide transparency on grade measures.”

The administration makes clear with statements such as these that they expect students to return to business as usual, despite their circumstances being anything but normal. Just because we have been experiencing the effects of this pandemic for some time now does not make the situation any less traumatizing, and to tell students that it is essentially time to “get over it” is insensitive and thoroughly insulting. 

Modified grading systems — along with projects like the wellbeing community and the Re-Coop days — ultimately do nothing to address the severe lack of professional help available to students on campus. 

It is a well known fact to all who have tried to utilize its services that the Center for Counseling and Student Development is severely understaffed, with the majority of students seeking help being referred to off-campus providers

For a student who is seeking help for the first time, who has made the courageous decision to recognize that they have a problem that needs to be addressed, to be turned aside is to potentially doom them to never get the care they need. Students may not be able to access off-campus providers due to expense, with many requiring parental assistance to access insurance coverage. To assume it is always a legitimate possibility for students to seek care from another provider is quite frankly ignorant and incredibly harmful.

If the university really wants to promote mental health and wellbeing on our campus, it is time for them to act — it is time to restore modified grading systems for the duration of online courses, time to encourage professors not to dismiss scheduled breaks, and time to put their money where their mouth is and fund professional mental health services for the students who call this campus home.
The Review’s weekly editorials are written to reflect the majority opinion of The Review’s staff. This week’s editorial was written by Wyatt Patterson. She may be reached at wyapat@udel.edu.

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