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GSC discusses coronavirus, mental health resources

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At Wednesday night’s Graduate Student Council (GSC) meeting, councilors discussed Thursday’s Lunar New Year Celebration and student concerns about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China and has grown to infect over 6,000 people globally. Councilors also continued mental health conversations that emerged during the fall quarter.

Coronavirus outbreak

This week’s Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) updates included notice about Wilbur Dining’s upcoming Lunar New Year Celebration. GSC co-chair and second-year law student Jasmine Shao asked R&DE representatives what measures they would be taking to address some students’ concerns regarding coronavirus and flu.

“Some students are telling me that they are concerned with how populated the event will be,” Shao said. “Even last week, some students didn’t go to Lunar New Year events because they were worried about contracting the virus.”

Some local Lunar New Year fairs in Palo Alto have been cancelled in response to concerns about the outbreak, the Palo Alto Weekly reported.

But R&DE’s scheduled celebration is still set to take place. R&DE representatives assured council members that they will stagger the number of people entering the event. Additionally, they recommended that students worried about crowding come towards the end of the event, as there will be fewer people around.

Shao further asked about whether it would be possible to distribute masks at the event, and R&DE representatives responded that they currently are not stocking masks and encouraged her and fellow students to reach out to Vaden Health Center instead.

“Our goal is to follow University protocol, and they have not asked us to do anything regarding the coronavirus situation as of now,” an R&DE representative said. “However, we will provide hand sanitizer in the dining hall, and there is also a bathroom available for anyone who wants to wash their hands.”

Councilors also debated whether or not the University should issue an official statement regarding the coronavirus outbreak. Shao noted that other institutions, such as Harvard and Columbia, have issued statements reminding students to take precautions and assuring them that resources were available in the case of an on-campus outbreak.

“I think that if students know that if Vaden is prepared in the case of an outbreak, then they would be less paranoid about the situation,” Shao said.

Apple and Google have said they are limiting their operations in China, with Amazon saying it is advising employees returning from affected areas to work from home for two weeks, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday.

Fourth-year dual law student and international policy masters student Julia Neusner opposed GSC intervention, arguing that the Council should not be the judge of whether there is a significant risk in regards to the outbreak.

“Premature action in this situation can result in a panic that manifests in discrimination against people from China,” Neusner said. “I really don’t think that we should get involved.”

Shao and her GSC co-chair, fourth-year mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Yiqing Ding, will meet with University administrators on Friday to discuss coronavirus and any future measures that Stanford will take in response to the outbreak.

Graduate life survey

Fourth-year theater and performance studies student Kari Barclay and fourth-year immunology Ph.D. student Lawrence Bai have been working on the annual graduate life survey that is set to come out later this quarter.

Barclay clarified that the survey will not focus on mental health and instead will center on graduate students’ thoughts on housing and transportation.

“We’re actually not allowed to focus on mental health with this survey because [Vice Provost for Student Affairs] Susie Brubaker-Cole wants to do that in the spring,” Bai said. “However, there are some survey questions about stress and their causes, so we’re dancing around the subject.”

Council members such as Shao and communications co-term John Coffey B.A. ’19 M.A. ’20 expressed their concerns regarding inefficiency with Stanford’s current mental health resources.

“My psychologist left because he didn’t get paid enough,” Coffey said. “The school doesn’t put enough money towards mental health.”

Councilors also said that Stanford’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is understaffed, making it difficult for students to get an appointment.

Neusner, who went to New York University (NYU) for her undergraduate education, said that NYU addressed mental health and suicide prevention by focusing on accessibility of psychological services.

“Their solution to mental health problems was to allow students to walk in and get a prescription if needed at any time,” she said. “I’ll look into how it is funded and what their walk-in program looks like, and maybe we can see if it is a feasible model for Stanford.”

This article has been corrected to show that the two universities were Harvard and Columbia, and not Harvard and Yale. It has also been corrected to clarify that the Lunar New Year event itself did not cause concern, but that some students have expressed concern regarding coronavirus and the flu.

This article has been updated to include reporting from the San Francisco Chronicle on tech companies’ responses to the outbreak.

A previous version of this article included discussion between councilors as to whether Amazon had called for all of its employees to work from home for two weeks. Amazon had not done so. Though it was noted in the article that the councilors were unsure, the truth was not made explicitly clear to readers. To avoid confusion, the article has been updated to omit that discussion.

Contact Camryn Pak at cpak23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Camryn Pak '23 is a desk editor for news. She is majoring in American Studies with a focus on Inequality, Media and the Law. In the past, Camryn has interned for the California State Assembly, various law firms and a congressional campaign. Contact her at cpak23 'at' stanford.edu.