By Sofia Monroy
On Wednesday, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) held a town hall addressing graduate student mental health and well-being on campus.
The event follows last week’s undergraduate town hall, which similarly brought together administrators and students to discuss mental health concerns and resources.
Wednesday’s event, moderated by GSC Advocacy Coordinator Kari Barclay and GSC co-chairs Amy Tarangelo and Yiqing Ding, originated as a result of a survey GSC conducted last year along with the Diversity and Advocacy Committee. Many graduate students who completed the survey — which received about 1,200 responses in total — reported having high levels of stress and poor mental health.
According to an invitation that was sent out for the town hall meeting, 40 percent of graduate students nationwide report dealing with anxiety and depression.
“It’s our goal to hopefully see an expansion of mental health services at Stanford,” Tarangelo said. “[and] to see the development of policies that start to address the problems around academic culture and to provide students with all of the resources we need to thrive.”
During the meeting, Vice Provost of Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole spoke on the various mental health challenges graduate students faced. Among them were stress from academic workload, financial issues and lack of access to child care for graduate students with children.
She also discussed solutions the University is working on, including a Faculty Advisory Board for Student Affairs that will discuss ways in which faculty can be better informed on student mental health and be more supportive in laboratories and classrooms.
Brubaker-Cole’s annual budget request also asks that Stanford matches the service capacity at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) with the needs of the students.
“It is very clear to me that student mental health and well-being is one of the most pressing issues that we face as a community at Stanford and the graduate students face here as well,” Brubaker-Cole said.
Geophysics Ph.D. student Darcie Heard, who attended the town hall, expressed her concerns surrounding diversity and inclusiveness with regard to mental health.
“I’m really interested in how they are going to focus on being more deliberately and broadly inclusive of people of all identities practically concerning health issues,” she said. “If we are just prescribing a one size fits all solution, then it doesn’t create a welcoming and inclusive environment which generates stress for those who feel like they don’t belong in that environment.”
Brubaker-Cole touched on these concerns during the meeting, saying that she recognized the importance of graduate students feeling a sense of belonging. She added that Stanford has “a lot of work to do in this area,” such as providing a more inclusive environment for students from historically underrepresented or marginalized backgrounds.
In order to address the issue, the administration has recently launched the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Community initiative (IDEAL) which will attempt to foster a more diverse community through change in the areas of student, faculty, and staff recruitment and access to equal opportunities.
“The goal is that we want our students to have supportive relationships with faculty and to feel valued and heard and seen,” said Vice Provost for Graduate Education Patti Gumport.
The University is also launching the Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force, which will be co-chaired by Jim Jacobs, Executive Director of Vaden and Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs, and Ken Hsu, Director of the Graduate Life Office and Assistant Vice Provost. Both Jacobs and Hsu were present at the town hall meeting to share more ways students can find support on campus.
Jacobs also announced that, starting sometime in January 2019, the pharmacy at Vaden will be turned over to a commercial entity, so that prescriptions at Vaden will be part of a national network. As a result, it will no longer be necessary to transfer prescriptions if a student is off campus. This will increase service availability for students, especially those not under Cardinal Care.
Jacobs also said Vaden is currently working on improvements to Cardinal Care, the University-sponsored healthcare option offered to students.
The Daily has reached out to Jacobs for further details.
During the open forum of the meeting, many graduate students expressed that they were feeling or had felt stress that stemmed from financial concerns such as student debt or insurance availability during leaves of absence. These financial issues will be addressed at the next GSC town hall meeting on Nov. 27, which will be on affordability and finances.
“I do have a great sense of optimism that action can come from our candid conversations together,” Gumport said. “The more that we have a deep understanding of our students’ experiences, the more effective we can be as advocates.”