Last week, the Harvard University Health Services announced that it would open its newly renovated fifth floor area, formerly home to the 10-bed Stillman Infirmary. In response to student complaints following last year’s announcement of Stillman’s closure, this space will preserve 24-hour urgent care resources, while also expanding crucial mental health and counseling services. Taken together, these changes amount to a positive signal that the administration is listening more to students’ perspectives and making appropriate adjustments to its proposals.
UHS stated plans last November to end overnight care at Stillman Infirmary and direct students to a phone consultation service and, if needed, local hospitals between 10 P.M. and 8 A.M. Meant to shift resources away from underused overnight care to mental health, the decision sparked an outpouring of student concern. A petition argued that students “have used [Stillman] time and again for vastly differing traumas, pains, and illnesses.”
As we opined last fall, students were right to voice concern. Administrators gave little rationale for why all 24-hour service should end, and they made the decision with little to no transparency or student input.
To UHS’s credit, however, their response to the student outcry was swift, and its recent announcement follows through on its adjusted commitments from last year. In this case, the University listened to students on a matter of significance for most segments of the Harvard community. Too often, a lack of attention to student views on issues like the allocation of social space in renovated houses and the recent changes to the Malkin Athletic Center Quad has led to unnecessary discontent and conflict. The original UHS decision to close Stillman and rely on phone consultations and off-campus hospitals was itself a prime example of inadequate communication creating avoidable problems and alienating students.
But UHS’s overall response and its recent announcement mark a break in this trend, and we expect the university to reap the benefits of keeping health services open 24 hours a day. Intoxication to an unsafe degree is a serious concern across the student body, which overnight stays will help manage. Especially given the ongoing discourse about alcohol use at Harvard’s final clubs and its correlation with sexual assault, having options for on-campus after-hours care remains vitally important. As we wrote last year, even if only 250 students used Stillman’s overnight services before its closure, these students’ safety must take precedence in considering changes to overnight operations.
Harvard will also benefit from the increased focus on mental health resources included in UHS’s plans. In February of this year, UHS reported that mental health services would increase by 20 to 25 percent as a result of the renovations to the former Stillman location. Mental health and counseling have proved themselves time and again to be crucial to the well-being of the student body, and their expansion is a welcome sign that another student concern is receiving due attention.
We hope that UHS’s decisions on the future of student health services portend a future of active listening and increased communication between students and administrators. Transparency and open dialogue can prevent many moments of conflict between the administration and the student body; as the University grapples with difficult issues moving forward, they may yet prevent many more.