On March 30, the Undergraduate Student Senate (USS) met in the Johnston Student Center to discuss various ways in which Virginia Tech could improve its mental health resources and procedures for students.
The meeting began with introductions and Virginia Tech’s land acknowledgement and Principles of Community. Following this, a moment of silence was held for Amber Rainsberger, a Virginia Tech student who died earlier this week in a car accident.
The discussion began with several individuals describing their personal experiences with the Cook Counseling Center.
“It sounds like people have completely horrible experiences with (Cook Counseling), or they’re great,” said Paolo Fermin, USS vice president and representative to the Board of Visitors.
Meredith O’Connor, the vice president for administration, commented on the experiences of students at Cook Counseling and the different qualities of care Virginia Tech students have received.
“It genuinely depends on who you get,” O’Connor said, in reference to Cook Counseling professionals.
Students further described issues with coordination between academic and administrative departments handling mental health issues and academic accommodations for those struggling with mental health.
“I think it would behoove Cook to be more connected to something like the Dean of Students, where there’s a better connection between academics and mental health,” said James Heagerty Ⅲ, USS senator for the Pamplin College of Business.
Another factor discussed during the town hall was the Virginia Tech Police Department’s (VTPD) role in addressing mental health crises, as well as mental health resources available in Blacksburg and the New River Valley area.
“Cook does recommend a lot of people to different Carilion Clinics … Specifically, I get worried about two things,” Heagerty said. “I hear that students hate going to different departments and being referred to a ton of departments because they don’t feel like they’re being helped where they need to be helped. Second to that, Carilion’s expensive, and a lot of people cannot afford that. I think the recommending out is helpful … but I think we need to realize it’s not an option for everyone.”
Heagerty later spoke about previous conversations with students describing their feelings toward Cook Counseling.
“I think it’s an issue when students, especially the ones I talk to, feel as if the university feels more proud to tout its rankings of having Cook Counseling be the No. 1 mental health services on a collegiate campus in the country without being willing to acknowledge that doesn’t necessarily speak for the mental health apparatus in the country, but instead speaks to the lack of quality of care in this environment,” Heagerty said.
The topic of how Virginia Tech’s Resident Advisor (RA) system handles mental health crises was also deliberated, in addition to professor and faculty roles in supporting students’ mental health.
Another concern listed during the town hall was lack of student knowledge about what takes place after Virginia Tech officials are contacted during mental health crises, particularly with how VTPD becomes involved. Students discussed their experiences with VTPD during mental health crises, and how VTPD’s involvement impacts students of color.
Further discussed was Virginia Tech’s communication of its resources, and the lack of knowledge students have in regards to the many non-academic services Virginia Tech offers, as well as how financial and housing issues affect the mental health of students.
Caroline Lohr, president of the USS, concluded the meeting by addressing the undergraduate student body.
“One of the benefits of having a USS town hall is that we can take the things that have been said and relay that information out and hopefully get traction with it and make action. That’s the essence of our organization. You know how you guys were talking about the students have power? We are those students.”