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Mental health statement required on future syllabi





Ndidi Nwosu / Drummer

By Hajera Naveed 02/11/22 00:13

Faculty senate passed a resolution requiring a statement on mental health in all university programs at the September 28 Senate meeting. The resolution, which was passed by the Student Union Senate on January 27, 2022, states that each program should encourage students to contact the Wellness and Counseling Department to discuss mental health issues and should contain a list of related resources for students.

The resolution passed in the faculty senate omitted part of the original SA resolutionwhich requested mandatory reporting to establish professor policies on academic adjustments for teaching-related mental health issues, including extensions and attendance policies.

Alexandra Kieffer, president of the faculty senate, said she believes this resolution is a reasonable request, especially in a post-COVID world where mental health issues are still present in the student population.

“We were taking what I think everyone agreed was a good idea for SA and making it … a package that we could actually put on the program,” Kieffer said.

Kieffer said there is a wide range of mental health issues, from mild anxiety to a severe depressive episode, and professors are not trained to differentiate between these situations and advise students. The executive committee needed to ensure that their instructions met university standards and would avoid unintended consequences when implementing this resolution, she added.

“We want to make sure students contact the Wellness and Counseling Center and encourage students to seek out the resources we have on campus, [but] …we don’t want faculty to inadvertently put themselves in a position where they could worsen a student’s mental health by not responding in a way that a student might want or expect,” Kieffer said.

The original SA resolution called for students to be able to contact mental health accommodations without the requirement of a Disability Resource Center. Alison Qiu, co-author of the SA resolution, said she was disappointed that the faculty senate did not pass this part of the resolution.

“I am glad that part of it is passed by the faculty senate and that professors are required to include a statement about the curriculum,” said Qiu, a sophomore at Hanszen College. “But I’m not totally satisfied because the last original clause…has been tabled.”

Professor Sandy Parsons, who has included a section on mental health in her curricula for many years, said that while she is delighted to see the resolution passed, she wishes there was more language of support required.

“As a teacher, I see students often apologizing for asking for extensions due to mental health issues or not telling me their needs early enough for me to help them, and I think that reflects the stigma students feel,” Parsons said.

Parsons said she believes this statement will help normalize seeking help from professional counselors and raise awareness of the resources available at Rice. However, she said she thinks teachers need to be more proactive in their role to help students deal with these issues.

“With the national increase in mental health issues, we need to be proactive as teachers to make sure our students know professional help is available,” Parsons said. “Faculty outside of clinical psychology have little or no training in dealing with mental health issues. But we are often the first stop for students who are having problems.

Rice Counseling Center director Timothy Baumgartner said adding a statement to the programs will remind students of the resources available to them and provide professors with information to direct students they think might benefit from a additional support.

Parsons said she believes students need to prioritize their mental health.

“Sometimes students have to prioritize their mental health over their schoolwork,” Parsons said. “Obviously, in the ideal situation, professors would prefer that students prioritize their courses. But I hope students know that sometimes it’s okay to choose “not school”.