On March 30, the Undergraduate Student Senate (USS) met at the Johnston Student Center to discuss various ways Virginia Tech could improve its mental health resources and procedures for students.
The meeting began with introductions and acknowledgment of Virginia Tech’s land and community principles. Following this, a minute of silence was observed for Amber Rainsberger, a Virginia Tech student who died earlier this week in a car accident.
The discussion began with several people describing their personal experiences with the Cook Counseling Center.
“It seems like people are having completely horrible experiences with (Cook Counseling), or they’re great,” said Paolo Fermin, USS vice president and representative on the board of visitors.
Meredith O’Connor, Vice President for Administration, commented on the experiences of Cook Counseling students and the different qualities of care Virginia Tech students received.
“It really depends on who you get,” O’Connor said, referring to the professionals at Cook Counseling.
Students further described coordination issues between academic and administrative departments dealing with mental health issues and academic accommodations for people with mental health issues.
“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 at the town hall was the role of the Virginia Tech Police Department (VTPD) in addressing mental health crises, as well as the mental health resources available in Blacksburg and the New River Valley area.
“Cook is recommending a lot of people to different Carilion clinics… Specifically, I’m concerned about two things,” Heagerty said. “I hear that students hate going to different departments and being directed to a ton of departments because they don’t feel like they’re being helped where they need help. Second, Carilion is expensive, and many people cannot afford it. I think the recommendation is helpful…but I think we have to realize that it’s not an option for everyone.
Heagerty then spoke about previous conversations with students describing their feelings toward Cook Counseling.
“I think it’s a problem when students, especially the ones I talk to, feel like the university feels more proud to brag about its ranking that Cook Counseling is #1 in healthcare on a college campus in the country without being willing to acknowledge that this doesn’t necessarily speak for the mental health apparatus in the country, but rather speaks to the lack of quality of care in that environment,” Heagerty said.
The topic of how Virginia Tech’s Resident Advisor (RA) system handles mental health crises was also discussed, in addition to the roles of faculty and professors in supporting student mental health.
Another concern mentioned during the town hall was students’ lack of knowledge about what happens after Virginia Tech officials are contacted during mental health crises, particularly about how the VTPD is involved. Students discussed their experiences with VTPD during mental health crises and the impact of VTPD involvement on students of color.
Virginia Tech’s communication of its resources and students’ lack of knowledge regarding the many non-academic services offered by Virginia Tech, as well as how financial and housing issues affect student mental health, were discussed. more in detail.
Caroline Lohr, President of ASU, concluded the meeting by addressing the undergraduate student body.
“One of the benefits of having an USS town hall is that we can take the things that have been said and relay that information and hopefully get some traction with it and take action. This is the essence of our organization. You know how you used to talk about the fact that students have power? We are those students.