On Wednesday, the Cox Health and Counseling Center sponsored a display on Peirce lawn of backpacks of students who lost their lives to suicide. The event, titled “Send Silence Packing” and hosted by Active Minds, was aimed to increase awareness about mental health and suicide prevention on campus.
While the message this display aimed to convey was powerful, we at the Collegian believe that the problem on this campus is not awareness of mental health issues. Following our campus’ loss last semester, the entire student body knows too well the devastating effects of suicide.
If the problem were awareness, students would not react so viscerally to the sudden loss of counselors and changes in resources offered by the Counseling Center and its affiliated groups. The problem is that the resources and programming the College provides — programs like “Send Silence Packing”— are inadequate because, no matter how well-intentioned, they are not the resources students ask for. This display is just one example of this ongoing phenomenon: The real problem is that the College is not listening to its student body.
For some, this display was very anxiety-inducing, especially because of its central location between Peirce and Middle Path. In a student-info email, Director of the Cox Health and Counseling Center Chris Smith wrote, “You may avoid traveling through the display by taking alternative paths and/or following the guidance of the volunteers who will be on site.” But avoiding the display was an impossible task. Assuming that a student eats or goes to class, this display would be unavoidable. The sign sitting just off Middle Path suggesting that students “make an informed decision” about their participation in the event was, frankly, laughable.
Smith also wrote that “engaging with this exhibit is voluntary.” Regardless of whether students wanted to or not, the location forced students to interact with the display as they walked to class, Peirce or their dorms. If it were truly voluntary, it would have been placed in a much more secluded location. We feel this is inconsiderate to those who struggle with mental health, as well as those who know and support people who have lost their lives to suicide.
Vice President of Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham’s ’92 sent out a student-info email Wednesday night in defense of the exhibit, a conciliatory step. Though her defense neglected to address the decision to place it in an unavoidable location on campus, we are glad she is taking the step to hear students today at Common Hour. We implore you, if you find yourself with the time and energy, to go and make your voice heard.
If “emotional health awareness and support are a campus priority,” as Smith writes, then we demand that the College provides us with more support and resources. Do not take away the support systems that Peer Counselors provide to students. Allocate your efforts to providing ample resources to the student body who struggle with mental illness, rather than spectacles like this. Awareness is important, but not when it is forced upon students in a manner that they did not ask for. We can do better.
The staff editorial is written by Editor-in-Chief Becca Foley ’20 and and Executive Director Tommy Johnson ’20. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively. Editor-in-Chief Adam Schwager ’20 recused himself from this editorial due to his involvement in writing the news article regarding the issue.