After last years's Ivy League Mental Health conference aimed to raise awareness about mental illness, delegates gathered at Brown this weekend to develop concrete policy goals.
The conference, held for the first time at the University of Pennsylvania in February 2016, brought together students from all eight Ivy League schools to discuss this year’s overarching theme of “creating sustainable change.”
Conversations throughout the three-day conference centered on five broad themes: medical leave and taking time off, mental health counseling resources, improving campus accessibility, mental illness among marginalized groups, and public health policies that may be employed at universities.
Delegates from Harvard addressed shortcomings in the College’s mental health resources and vowed to enact lasting reforms.
“We really want there to be a sustained change moving forward and not just something that resulted in conversations at this conference alone,” said Stefanie Kaufman, an organizer of the conference and a senior at Brown.
Waverley Y. He ’18 said she hoped delegates to the conference would feel personally empowered to enact change on their campuses. She added that while last year, most delegates were already affiliated with peer counseling groups, this year’s delegates attended largely out of personal interest.
“I think because of that, people are going to be more invested in carrying the work forward than individual advocates, coming together as a team. I feel more confident that more action will come out of this year’s conference,” He said.
Nikki M. Daurio ’19 said her a desire to enact policy changes around mental health at Harvard inspired her to apply to be one of Harvard’s conference liaisons.
“I didn’t see any changes [last year], so we’re going to continue meetings after the conference to make sure we actually make a change, to make sure our voices are heard,” Daurio said.
The conference began with presentations research on mental health policies across the eight schools. On Saturday and Sunday, students attended various workshops on issues such as racism on college campuses and the Americans with Disabilities Act before breaking out into problem-solving groups that formulated possible policy changes.
He, who represented Harvard at the conference, said that she personally wanted to discuss the issue of mental health among students of color at the conference, and said she eventually hopes to see a multicultural center on Harvard’s campus.
“I know a lot of other schools have cultural centers that provide a sense of community and home for people who are of, for example, Asian American background,” He said. “I think some schools have Latino cultural centers or African American cultural centers, and Harvard has none of that. So I was interested in learning how other schools provide resources for students of minority background.”
Harvard administrators have for some time expressed willingness to build such a center, but cite constraints on physical space as a potential problem in its construction.
Moving forward, conference attendees plan to stay in touch through a Facebook group, where they will be able to reach out for help in advocating change at their own schools. According to Daurio, Harvard’s delegation will meet at least once a month.
In the more distant future, conference organizers plan to work towards expanding the efforts and goals of the Ivy League Mental Health Conference to non-Ivy League schools.