Op-ed: No student in need of help should go without at a university bursting with abundance

Shelly Gupta, Carolyn Perlmutter and Tyler Tran | Class of 2019 and 2020

Washington University has slowly increased mental health resources in response to an outcry from the student body from an inability to get appointments at the Habif Health and Wellness Center to the overwhelming number of students taking medical leaves of absence. The administration insists that Habif cannot accommodate the needs of students and instead pushes them to seek off-campus care. Only recently have they taken measures to provide Habif with the staff and resources necessary to effectively connect students with off-campus care providers, but many barriers to accessing off-campus care remain.

Last spring, Student Union committed $50,000 toward improving the state of mental health support on campus. In partnership with the Office of the Provost, around $18,000 has been dedicated to the Kognito Program, which prepares faculty and staff to approach conversations about social and emotional health with students. The approximately $32,000 remaining was entrusted to us to determine its implementation, and today we are excited to announce the culmination of those efforts with the introduction of a mental health fund set aside to serve low-income students.

No student in need of mental health treatment should go without at a university bursting with abundance. With this money, low-income students can request funds to cover the cost of therapy, psychiatry, testing, transportation to off-campus providers and other expenses related to mental health treatment. Eligible students will be contacted by the Office for Student Success, and any requests will be handled by their staff to ensure the highest level of confidentiality. There is no limit to the amount that a student can request, and there is no limit to the number of requests that a student can make.

We recognize that the scope of this fund is wide and that its aspirations are ambitious. We acknowledge that $32,000 is a small sum compared to what is needed to support students fully. But we believe that the long-term survival of this fund and the future it strives towards is well within our community’s grasp if we decide to reach for it. Earlier this year the University celebrated the culmination of the Leading Together campaign, raising an astounding $3.378 billion in gifts and commitments to fund new scholarships, academic programs, facilities and more. We hope that the same administration that accomplished this feat will help its students secure funds for this venture as well.

The administration, however, is not the only group in our community with means. We hope that, if needed, Student Union will help sustain this fund in the future. Our Student Union controls an annual budget of over $3 million, which increases yearly as tuition rises. This initiative demonstrates what can be accomplished when Student Union advocates with its wallet, and seeks to allocate funds on principles instead of allowing itself to get wrapped up in rules. It hints that beyond the concerts, art supplies and free food, there lies a profound opportunity in Student Union’s resources to do so much good in our community that is lost if we are not determined to seize it.

At a university with as much wealth and privilege as ours, opportunities like these to act upon our values present themselves to us every day. Today, we call upon the administration, Student Union and all members of our community to evaluate how we have invested our time, resources and energy and reflect on whether or not we are truly living out the values that we claim to hold, and whether or not we can do more. Each and every one of us has values that we believe in, but all too often we forget that “value” is not simply a noun, but a verb, and that the challenge lies not in believing, but in action.

We would like to thank Lucy Chin and Anthony Tillman from the Office for Student Success, Mike Runiewicz and Andrea Stewart-Douglas from Student Financial Services and Missy Showalter from the Habif Health and Wellness for their help and support on this venture. The opinions reflected in this op-ed are held by the authors of this piece and not necessarily by anyone else within Student Union.