Prioritizing On-Campus Mental Health in Trump's America

These days, simply following the news is a mentally draining activity. Not only is the sitting president tarnishing relations with various nations, surrounding himself with an utterly unqualified cabinet, and Twitter ranting on a daily basis, he is actively setting this country up for its quickly approaching demise. In only his first week as president, Donald Trump has issued a ban against immigrants traveling into the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. He has also passed executive orders to advance the construction of both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. His Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon is former Executive Chair of alt-right, ethno-nationalist Breitbart News, and his new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has recently advocated for guns in schools to protect students from “potential grizzlies.”

Needless to say, the country is facing a tremendous downward spiral. As we continue to watch the administration’s next moves, some 7C students are far more affected by policies than others. Sahana Mehta SC ’20 said, “Post inauguration, there was definitely a deep sadness that overcame me for a while because of my immigrant story and the fact that various diasporas have seen the United States as the be-all, end-all of life, privilege, success, and the American Dream.” As is apparent, Trump’s xenophobic, sexist, anti-Muslim, ableist, and racist sentiments directly endanger members of the 7C community, and it remains the college administrations’ responsibility to care for these affected groups.

After the Muslim ban, the Counseling Center issued an email to all 7C students reminding them of the various resources available to them. In a time when many students are in fear and uncertainty of their safety, Monsour should continue to be a strong presence on the campuses. After the election and inauguration, many identity-based clubs across the colleges offered spaces for healing and support; however, the efficacy of these spaces could have been enhanced if Monsour could have lent its services to ensure that students were coping in a healthy way. Indeed, certain affinity meetings, such as those run by the Muslim Students Association, EKTA (the South Asian affinity group), and the Office of Black Student Affairs, should occasionally enlist the help of a Monsour staff member in order to ensure that students are engaging with the space productively. The presence of Monsour staff may also help to destigmatize mental health support in many communities of color on campus.

Colleges generally tend to be hotbeds of stress and anxiety for many students. In a 2015 TSL survey, 74.9 percent of students said that “their academic workloads had negatively impacted their mental health this semester,” while 68.3 percent said “social stresses" had also harmed their mental health. Furthermore, 64.6 percent of respondents said “feelings of isolation or loneliness had impacted them” emotionally, mentally, and physically. A study conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that “64 percent of young adults who are no longer in college are not attending college because of a mental health related reason, primarily “depression, bipolar disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder.” (http://www.csc.edu/bit/resources/statistics/) These troubling statistics are proof that Monsour should continue to be a strong resource for students with mental illness, as well as those affected by Trump’s America. However, the Counseling Center cannot do this if the 7Cs do not support it in equitable ways.

In the fall of 2015, Monsour Counseling Center informed its students that there was a five-week waiting period to get an appointment, and Pomona College provided funding for its students to “help students identify and receive counseling with local therapists.” However, the other six colleges and institutions in the consortium did not, and perhaps were not able to, contribute to such efforts. The 5,000 other students in the consortium did not have this access. Those who were not Pomona students and who were in need of mental health support were forced to wait for an unreasonable number of weeks to acquire it. The 7Cs should provide equal financial support to Monsour, especially when it comes to students’ mental health.

Monsour offers students eight to ten sessions a year, after which the Center refers students to off-campus therapists who can continue seeing the students. This poses a concern for students whose insurance does not fully cover mental health support. Instead of outsourcing students after a set amount of sessions, Monsour should hire more professionals and recruit specialists in certain cases in order to be better equipped for long-term care of students. The colleges could support this initiative by equally pooling their respective resources and expanding Monsour’s capabilities.

The need for the Counseling Center’s services is undoubtedly going to increase during the course of this presidency and with the building stresses that all students have to face in college. Priya Prabhakar SC ’20 said, “It’s very hard to see the pain around me, especially the ways his policies have materialized in the lives of my friends and family and innocent people. But at the same time I’m very energized to resist.” With an administration that turns a blind eye to empiricism and, bluntly put, credible politics of any kind, it is integral that we who are and will be most affected by these policies take measures to protect ourselves mentally and emotionally. Unfortunately, to a large extent, our colleges cannot avert the pain and fear that is bound to come. However, what they can do is prepare us with the mental health resources we need to face the uncertainty head on.

Tiara Sharma SC '20 is from Boston, MA. She plans on majoring in English and maybe Philosophy.