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VPSA establishes mental health advisory board

After implementing 18 recommendations from a 2008 report on campus mental health resources, the University oversight committee on the subject will now give way to a newly-created advisory board. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) director Ron Albucher and Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs Sally Dickson will co-chair the advisory board, which is expected to convene formally for the first time this fall.

In 2006, Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ’82 convened a mental health task force, which was charged with studying the campus climate and culture surrounding mental health. The task force published a report in November 2008, which included 18 recommendations that were to be implemented by an oversight committee.

Now that the recommendations have been implemented, Albucher said the committee is no longer a useful body.

“[The advisory board] will kind of take over from the oversight committee and continue to keep mental health, well-being, resiliency, even issues around substance use, all on the front burner, if you will, so that we keep refining what we’re doing and offering to meet student needs,” Albucher said. “We’ll have student representation on that advisory board; we’ll have faculty and staff as well.”

According to Albucher, the new board will use the next few months before fall quarter to solidify its membership, making sure a broad spectrum of groups on campus are represented. The board will also work to clarify and cement its purpose, and its scope of inquiry.

The mental health advisory board is one of several such groups that report to Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman, including advisory boards on sexual violence and alcohol use on campus.

One undergraduate and one graduate student will sit on the board, according to ASSU President Robbie Zimbroff ’12, who said Boardman has asked him to recommend students for the posts.

“I want kids who are going to be – not just by resume – good candidates but also candidates who can consider lots of sides of any issue,” Zimbroff said. “We’re all for mental health and wellness, but that doesn’t mean anything when it’s such a nebulous term. You have to be able to see how things cut both ways.”

Zimbroff cited as an example that when Resident Assistants (RAs) are trained to help students who are stressed or slipping through the cracks in getting support, there is a cost for the RAs as well that must be considered.

“What are the implications of the RA, who’s also a student, doing this?” he asked. Zimbroff himself is currently serving his second year as an RA in Ujamaa.

According to Zimbroff, he and ASSU Vice President William Wagstaff ’12 are talking to student groups that deal with mental health and wellness on campus as part of their search for candidates.

“It’s the toughest thing to deal with on campus when a peer dies,” Zimbroff said, referring to the recent deaths of student-athlete Sam Wopat on March 25 and junior English major Cady Hine on April 1. “I didn’t know Sam or Cady, and it’s weighed on me…There needs to be dialogue about how you deal with loss in a community and how you respond to issues of mental health on a university campus.”

Zimbroff emphasized that these conversations should take place throughout the campus community and not just in Senate or advisory board meetings.

“Two execs and 15 senators are never going to represent the undergraduate body completely,” he said. “We’re individuals, and when it comes to an issue like this, I think this is one where more participation rather than more representation is probably a good thing, having people talk about this in their dorms to their friends.”

He added that the dialogue surrounding mental health needs to be a continuing presence on campus beyond individual conversations or initiatives.

“I don’t think you have a duck syndrome conversation, and then you check it off and you move on,” he said, referencing the well-known phenomenon in which student stress or anxiety is masked by a deceivingly serene appearance.

Zimbroff said he would like to see the mental health advisory board address issues such as duck syndrome and other academic mental health issues, directly in light of the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford report.

Zimbroff cited one example of academic-related stress as the regimented curricula of 100-plus-unit engineering majors, as compared to his 63-unit history major, in which students don’t have the flexibility to “figure out [their] passions.”

“Having a really honest discussion in that area is something that works in conjunction with SUES,” he added.

About Alice Phillips

Alice Phillips '15 is Managing Editor of News at The Stanford Daily. Previously, she worked as the paper's Deputy Editor, Chief Copy Editor, a News Desk Editor and a News Staff Writer. Alice is a biology major from Los Angeles, California.