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Harvard College Dean Khurana Lauds New Campus Mental Health Initiatives

Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, pictured during a September interview.
Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, pictured during a September interview. By Cory K. Gorczycki
By Vivi E. Lu and Leah J. Teichholtz, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana praised new mental health initiatives launched by the University and Counseling and Mental Health Service this fall in a Friday interview.

This month, Harvard rolled out a campus-wide mental health awareness campaign following recommendations from Harvard’s Task Force on Managing Student Mental Health, convened in 2019 by University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76.

In addition, CAMHS announced on Oct. 5 it would provide students with access to a new virtual counseling and well-being platform. Some students have previously criticized CAMHS wait times, which last semester reached around six weeks for an initial appointment due to increased demand and clinician turnover.

“While nobody has a perfect solution, I’m really grateful that we are rolling out so many new initiatives, which I think should help both strengthen the view that mental health is part of well-being and also increase opportunities for accessing the potential help people need,” Khurana said.

For the second year in a row, Harvard students organized a display of 1,000 backpacks in Harvard Yard in September. The display, which Khurana described as “very moving and powerful,” represents the annual toll of college student suicide in the United States.

“It was a poignant reminder that while I think we made progress in destigmatizing mental health, not everybody has easy access to it,” he said.

Khurana called on Harvard affiliates to “role model” asking for help and to share their stories with others.

“Seeking help is a sign of strength,” he said. “I think talking about it and sharing one’s own story or struggles can be beneficial.”

Khurana also discussed the following topics:

Midterm Elections

Looking ahead to midterm elections on Nov. 8, Khurana encouraged students to vote and educate themselves on political issues. He cited the work of the Harvard Votes Challenge in encouraging increased voter registration.

“We always encourage students to be engaged and to vote. That's an important exercise of democratic responsibility. We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for students to get absentee ballots,” Khurana said. “This is a critical responsibility for those who are voting in US elections.”

Khurana noted that some students may have “frustration about whether one vote matters” but highlighted the importance of civic engagement.

“Often many elections are much closer than people realize. Votes do matter, and they are expressions of interest and expressions of hopes and directions,” Khurana said. “Ultimately, the best political leaders end up being leaders for all the people that they’re representing, not just the group that voted for them.”

Nobel Laureates

Two Harvard College alums were awarded Nobel Prizes in early October. Carolyn R. Bertozzi ’88 received the prize “for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry” on Oct. 5, and former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Ben S. Bernanke ’75 was one of three recipients of the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Khurana said he was “over the moon” upon learning of the College alums who are now Nobel Laureates.

“The experiences [Bertozzi] had and the people she worked with, it really just spoke to what we’re trying to create for every student,” Khurana said. “To have them authentically pursue the things that they care about, to have that transformative experience in relationships and the subjects they study and through their peers,” he added.

The Crimson interviews Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana once per month during the academic year. Click here to submit a question for consideration in our next interview.

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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College AdministrationMental HealthCollege NewsRakesh Khurana