On Thursday, the Undergraduate Senate held a Mental Health Town Hall that brought together students and administrators to discuss mental health resources and concerns on campus.
According to Senate co-chairs and town hall organizers Leya Elias ’21 and Jianna So ’21, the town hall aimed to collect student insights for the University’s Mental Health Task Force and to bridge gaps in knowledge between the administration and students.
“The town hall touched on a variety of very important issues … from pre-Stanford trauma being identified during CAPS [Counseling and Psychological Services] sessions, underfunding of CAPS, PHE pay inequities and the lack of spaces on campus designated exclusively to mental health,” Elias wrote in an email to The Daily.
Vice Provost of Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole began the event by speaking about short- and long-term efforts to improve mental health at Stanford.
In the short term, she discussed reducing wait times for those seeking mental health services at the Vaden Health Center and addressing staffing shortages at CAPS.
In the long run, Brubaker-Cole wants to address an “absence of mid-level” support, acknowledging that high-level support through clinical intervention and low-level support through peers is insufficient. She said she was “acutely aware” of challenges facing students who need long-term mental health care, but that she has no “answers right now.”
“No clinical interventions can change cultural phenomenon,” Brubaker-Cole said. “We need to attend to environment and culture.”
In an effort to change the culture of “duck syndrome” and imposter syndrome at Stanford, Brubaker-Cole’s new faculty advisory group aims to increase awareness of and sensitivity to mental health challenges in classrooms.
Ultimately, however, she called upon students to collaborate to achieve cultural change.
“The road to cultural change is long,” she said. “It’s not something one person can do – it’s community. I’m committed to these changes on all sides.”
James Jacobs – executive director of Vaden Health Center, associate vice provost for Student Affairs and co-chair of the University’s Mental Health Task Force – reiterated Brubaker’s desire to collaborate with students, saying also that Stanford’s peer institutions are “in the same situation” and “all struggling to figure out solutions.”
However, CAPS director Bina Patel opened her subsequent remarks by praising the strong peer-support network at Stanford, compared to similar networks at other universities.
“It’s rare for undergrads to be struggling [with mental health] and for no one to know,” said Patel, “So thank you, but this does not absolve us of our role.”
According to Patel, CAPS is planning on working with the JED Foundation, a nonprofit that takes a “public health approach to mental health.” Specifically, Patel highlighted JED’s Equity and Mental Health Initiative, which focuses on understanding “the particular needs of students of color.”
When asked about the recent lawsuit brought against Stanford, which alleges that the University violated campus and state anti-discrimination laws in their treatment of students who reported mental health problems, Patel explained that CAPS is not responsible for administrative decisions regarding leaves.
“CAPS doesn’t have an administrative role on campus,” he said. “Our role is to meet with students.”
In the Q&A session that closed out the town hall, Brubaker-Cole, who is also co-chair of ResX, was asked about the inequity of pay of Peer Health Educators, as compared to other residential staffers. In response, Brubaker-Cole said that residential “student staff bear too much” and that ResX is working on recommendations on “what shape staffing should take,” which will be ready in December.