The College of William & Mary in Virginia
ALMA MATER OF THE NATION
DESSLER HAS CANCELED ALL PLANS TO HELP HERE
EFFECTIVE JULY 27, 2021
by David Dessler - July 6, 2021
There is a student mental health crisis at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
Indications of this emergency:
(1) Students have NO access to mental health care on campus.
(2) The president of the College, Katherine Rowe, is given NO data on the mental health condition of her students.
(3) The campus climate denigrates those with mental health problems. It is an overtly hostile environment. Medical science says that, when it comes to student mental health, the most important thing is to encourage students to get help. William & Mary's climate and practices do the opposite.
(4) Students are quoted in the local press saying the following:
a. "It's shocking to me that mental health and self-harm is something that administrators wouldn't take seriously."
b. "Nobody wants to speak up because when you try to express concerns about mental health at this school, you get laughed at by the administration."
c. "It's a systemic problem. The university consistently values its own reputation over the needs of the wellbeing of the students, the staff, and faculty."
d. "It just feels like this is happening on an island. Nobody who isn't tapped into the William and Mary community is listening. We just want to feel like someone is listening to us."
(5) The Counseling Center, which offers no mental health care, is making statements to the press expressing "surprise" that the students are reporting "inadequate services."
(6) A petition on Change.org, calling for William & Mary to fire the Provost, Peggy Agouris, allegedly concerns a controversy over pass/fail options. More than one-quarter of the student body has signed it.
a. In reality, the issue is not pass/fail. The petition represents the deep frustration on the part of students who have expressed legitimate and justified demands for mental health care and received only silence, pushback, ridicule, and worse
b. A student remark in the box "Reasons for Signing [the Petition]" makes clear that, while the petition purports to be a protest concerning a pass/fail policy, the issue is mental health: "It's not about pass/fail," the student writes, "it's about the blatant disregard for student wellbeing. Treating mental health issues, particularly suicide, with such callousness and dismissiveness is unacceptable, especially at a school such as W&M which has such a history of student suicide."
OVERVIEW OF THE CURRENT SITUATION
by David Dessler July 8, 2021
W&M today faces the worst crisis in student mental health at the College in six years. On Monday, April 13, 2015, a W&M student named Paul Soutter committed suicide. It was the fourth student suicide that year. I was president of the Faculty Assembly at the time and I will never forget the shock, despair, and dislocation of that time. That day was--and still is, by anyone who remembers it--called the "tipping point."
Student attitudes and comments about W&M mental health were the same as those that would appear six years later in the current crisis. They had the same urgency and they pointed to the same problems: No treatment for mental health problems was available to students. The Counseling Center pretended to offer counseling, but did not, and it mocked the students. The students felt, and for good reason, that the university had no regard for their welfare or wellbeing. To them, the College was concerned about its image above all else. The students felt cut off, as in a distant land. They believed no one understood what they were going through.
Every complaint being made in 2021 was made in 2015, using the same language, reporting the same facts, and revealing the same emotions. The only difference between then and now is, of course, that no students have died, and thus, the faculty have not had to consider requests from grieving and overwhelmed students for, say, extensions on paper assignments, or perhaps moving an exam date.
Six years ago, what the tipping point triggered in the faculty was their fatigue with requests for extensions from grieving, traumatized, and overwhelmed students. The faculty's actions appeared to the students as indifference. As if the loss of student lives did not matter. The students had a name for this, so common and disturbing was the phenomenon: "business as usual."
The biggest challenge I faced as Assembly president was getting faculty to give these kids a break. Lack of faculty compassion was a campus-wide phenomenon, known to students who circulated among themselves email replies from professors they had asked for some allowance or adjustment.
At one point I phoned the Provost, Michael Halleran, and asked if he could send out an email requesting that the faculty be more considerate. That request, too, became part of the student story, primarily because it was mostly ignored.
July 17, 2021
SUMMARY OF CURRENT STUDENT CONCERNS AND A STATEMENT OF THE COLLEGE'S COMMITMENT TO A FULL AND IMMEDIATE RESPONSE
The students' criticisms and complaints about the mental health care system are proper and appropriate. Their claims are accurate. Their concerns are legitimate. While an outside observer might believe this account cannot be possible, that no student body could face such horrific conditions, with no access to mental health care on campus, an indifferent and hostile mental health climate, and certain administrators who mock and threaten students, and even use established policies designed to do nothing but damage, even destroy, student lives, these are indeed the facts that describe the reality of mental health care at the College of William & Mary. Students have cried out with urgency for someone, at the very least, to listen.
Let the word go forth that these pleas for help have been heard, they are understood, and the College is committed to act.
Let the undergraduates at William & Mary know that steps are beginning now to have in place a new mental health care system by the time they arrive for fall classes. This system was designed some time ago. It was reported in the Flat Hat. It is based on experience gained at the College. It has been updated with the latest national data on college student mental health and the most recent scientific research. When the students are back on campus, the mental health crisis will simply dissolve, and the topic of mental health will become an exciting opportunity for conversation, reflection, and positive action.
Here is the reform in a nutshell:
Here is what President Rowe knows she must avoid
Dessler governance work
Game theory and war 1.0.b
Missing Flat Hat article on student mental health care
Flat Hat articles student mental health care