Pomona to Host Discussion of Mental Health Policies

Pomona College will hold two meetings next week to allow students to express their questions and concerns about the college’s approach to mental health. Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum announced the meetings April 23 in an email to the college community. 

The meetings come in light of recent discussion surrounding an Opinions piece by Yi Li PO ’14 that appeared in TSL on Friday, April 18. Li’s piece, which added to many ongoing conversations about mental health on campus, focused on her personal experience dealing with mental health and criticized the policies enforced by the Pomona administration in her case.

“Supporting students who are experiencing mental health issues is a top priority, and has been an area of focus for us this year,” Feldblum wrote in her message to the student body. “We care deeply about the health and well-being of every student.”

In her email, Feldblum outlined several actions the college has taken in an effort to review its mental health resources and policies, such as administering the Healthy Minds survey that was conducted early in the semester and received responses from 900 students. The college will use the upcoming discussions and information from the survey to inform a campus mental health working group.

The working group, set into motion last semester, has the goals of reviewing current mental health resources and making recommendations for ways the college can dissolve the stigma surrounding mental health issues. The working group includes faculty and staff members, as well as student members of the 5C Mental Health Alliance, the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC), and the Disability, Illness, and Difference Alliance (DIDA).

DIDA President Maddy Ruvolo SC ’14 wrote in an email to TSL that DIDA is happy to help the administration focus on the needs of students dealing with mental illness. Ruvolo added on behalf of the group that transparency is an important aspect of the working group.

“In order for this task force to be effective, the entire student body must be kept updated regarding its progress,” Ruvolo wrote. “We want to see the administration’s plan of action for making the campus a safer place for students with mental illnesses.”

Specific policies that have come under scrutiny include those regarding medical and involuntary medical leave, as well as the college’s policy on suspending students from living in residence halls. Outlined in the Pomona Student Handbook are the terms for proper residence hall behavior, which should give residents “a comfortable and well-maintained living environment that is reasonably safe and secure.”

“Students can lose their privilege of living in the resident halls if they can’t function as a member of the residential community,” Feldblum said in an interview with TSL.

Different criteria, such as alcohol and substance violations, are used to determine whether a student loses on-campus housing privileges. Threats of self-harm specifically are not a basis for losing housing privileges.  

While students can work to maintain their conduct within the residence halls, certain situations can prompt the college to place students with potentially harmful psychological or physical conditions on involuntary medical leave, during which the student is no longer enrolled at the college.

Pomona designates the right to place students on involuntary medical leave specifically to the Dean of Students Office, but the office requires concurrence from a certified medical professional working with the college or the student before taking action.

Ordinary medical leave, in which a student chooses to suspend enrollment, involves a different set of procedures. At the discretion of the Dean of Students Office, a student on medical leave may have the same access as students on campus; however, the Dean of Students Office may suspend the right for a student to remain on campus or participate in academic or extracurricular programs.

For a student placed on medical leave to return to the college, the student must follow a specific procedure that includes approval from the student’s treating physician, as well as evaluations administered by the college.

The Student Handbook reads: “Students may return from medical leave when it is clear that they are physically and psychologically able to engage in Pomona’s rigorous academic program and are not likely to cause psychological or physical harm to self or other individuals.”

In response to situations involving self-harm or harm to others, Pomona employs an On-Call Assessment Team (OCAT), which assesses available information to determine what is best for the student involved. The 4-5 person OCAT is assembled on a case-by-case basis by Jan Collins-Eaglin, associate dean of students for student support and learning. The OCAT can include staff members from the Dean of Students Office, the director of Campus Safety, and faculty advisers.

“It’s that group who looks at whatever the evidence is, what’s best for the student, as well as looking at harm to others and the community,” Feldblum said. “Our top priority is therapeutic: How can we best support the student who is experiencing mental health issues?”

According to Felblum, Pomona revamped its discrimination and harassment policies last year and has identified the leave policies as needing review during the 2014-2015 academic year. No students have been placed on involuntary medical leave since Feldblum became dean of students in 2007.

“We are always looking at our policies, and taking into account what is happening on campus as well as national, legislative or legal changes,” she wrote in an email to TSL.

Feldblum also noted the clear distinction between the college’s disciplinary procedures and processes involving academic and medical leaves. 

“I wouldn’t call it a disciplinary process,” Feldblum said. “It’s really about safety and welfare and what’s best for the student. That’s why I say it’s an assessment process. You don’t want to conflate the two. Those are two separate kinds of processes at the college.”

The administration will hold meetings to discuss the college’s approach to mental health on Monday, April 28 and Tuesday, April 29 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Women’s Union in Pomona’s Walker Residence Hall.​

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