Mental health issues have played a central role in campaign platforms for the Undergraduate Council’s presidency and vice presidency this year. While all four tickets have advocated increasing awareness and support for campus-wide mental health, the tickets differ in their position on the Council’s role in these efforts.
CAMHS IN THE HOUSES
Two tickets want to work toward integrating Counseling and Mental Health Services clinicians from Harvard University Health Services into House life. Scott Ely ’18 and Evan M. Bonsall ’19 have proposed adding a CAMHS counselor to the "house circle" to increase accessibility. Similarly, Eduardo A. Gonzalez ’18 and and Alex Popovski ’19 want to give CAMHS clinicians non-resident tutor privileges in Houses, equipping them with dining hall access so that students can informally get to know their mental health professionals.
“It’s much less scary to talk to someone you know,” Popovski said.
Although the Ely-Bonsall and Gonzalez-Popovski tickets have advocated for bringing CAMHS staff in closer connection with students in the Houses, Yasmin Z. Sachee ’18 and Cameron K. Khansarinia ’18 said the UC’s policies moving forward should be ones that can be “practically implemented.” Sachee and Khansarinia noted that, in the past, candidates’ platforms have pushed for similar House access for CAMHS staff, which they say is difficult to carry out.
“That, in our opinion, is a thing that [has] unfortunately already been explored by the UC and already been seen to be way too expensive to implement,” Sachee said.
Instead, the two said they want to work on “things we actually have control over.” Their published platform includes increasing funding for peer counseling groups and working with College administrators on a policy that allows students to receive assignment extensions solely through consulting their House or Yard resident deans.
Ely, Bonsall, Gonzalez, and Popovski have also advocated increasing funding for peer counselors.
Gonzalez and Popovski said they hope greater socioeconomic diversity among student peer counselors will make student-led mental health resources more attractive to undergraduates. For them, the UC should be supporting these groups with additional financial resources—their platform even includes making peer counseling count for some students’ work-study requirement.
“If you have a termtime job, you’re cut out from being a peer counselor,” Gonzalez said. “We want to make sure there are no barriers to becoming a student peer counselor.”
INCREASING ACCESSIBILITY AND AWARENESS
Gonzalez and Popovski, along with their contenders, are also focused on publicizing mental health resources and making them more accessible to students. Ely and Bonsall have specifically proposed using the UC as a platform to spread information about mental health resources.
For Ely and Bonsall, increasing access to mental health resources fits into their larger mission of accomplishing small, tangible goals, that, in Ely’s words, “make things just a little bit better everyday for Harvard,” and, according to them, is one of the most important focuses of their platform.
“Every year, most tickets have a mental health program, but once they actually get elected, it seems like something else takes precedence—usually trying to throw parties or improve social life,” Bonsall said. “To say that very important issues like mental health and sexual assault should take a back seat to throwing parties—I think that’s completely out of line with the mission of the UC.”
The only ticket comprised of students not on the UC, Grant S. Solomon ’18 and Alexander T. Moore ’18, has been critical of the other candidates and what they characterize as a lack of demonstrated results on the Council thus far.
“They’ve been on the Undergraduate Council and had this large voice. I’d love to know what they’ve done, because I don’t know,” Solomon said.
While not voicing any specific initiatives to address mental health, Solomon and Moore said they want to bring the perspectives of other student groups to the Council.
Solomon and Moore questioned the progress that the current UC has made to improve campus mental health, and this year’s mental health platforms have struck a different chord compared to last year’s presidential campaign.
During the 2015 UC presidential election, Shaiba Rather ’17 and Danny V. Banks ’17 focused their mental health platform on increasing racial diversity among CAMHS therapists. While Sachee and Khansarinia said that they thought increased diversity among HUHS staff was a positive idea, they noted the UC’s limited influence on HUHS hiring policies.
“We hope we can get there in the future, but it’s not something that the UC really has any purview over,” Sachee said.
Voting for the UC’s incoming president and vice president opened on Nov. 14 and will close on Nov. 17.
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