Content Warning: This article contains references to the death of a student.
A mental health working group formed jointly by the Undergraduate Government (USG) and the Office of University Life and University Health Services (UHS) has published a final report. Report Regarding mental health resources on campus on Sept. 19.
Recommendations in the report include implementing 24/7 psychological counseling and services (CPS), funding for transportation to off-campus mental health services, establishing a “system of wellbeing checks that is not fully supported by the Department of Public Safety,” and funding to expand the number of and diversity of CPS advisors.”
The working group was formed from a Senate-sponsored referendum from last spring’s election cycle that called on the university to conduct a review of mental health resources available to students and allocate resources to fill in the gaps identified by that review. The progress made by the working group is emblematic of a US government administration that has emphasized from its inception a goal to make the mental health of students a priority.
An introductory letter to the report – signed by USG Mental Health Resource Task Force co-chairs Stephen Daniels ’24 and Anna Sivaraj ’23, USG Vice President Hana Kapoor ’23, and USG Chief Mayu Takeuchi ’23 – acknowledged that her mental health concerns were significantly relevant Especially in recent years coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The university has been resuming a range of fully in-person activities, but as students we have continued to deal with the various impacts of the pandemic, including grief from personal and societal losses and disruptions extending to academic, social and curricular opportunities,” the letter states.
The bulk of the report is organized as a series of recommendations – 32 in total in four areas of interest, including only seven that the university has not yet agreed to pursue.
Each recommendation describes an action or series of actions that has been delegated to a specific official or group, and each is categorized in one of four possible states: “under review,” meaning that it is currently being reviewed by “relevant stakeholders” at a university; “In progress”, meaning that the recommendation has been accepted and “work towards its completion has begun”; “accomplishment”; or “complete and ongoing”.
The proposals are organized into four sections: “Moving to Princeton and Navigating Resources,” “Residential Colleges,” “CPS Outreach Counselors and Counselors, Off-Campus Mental Health Care,” and “Telehealth.”
The section covering the transition to Princeton University focuses on strategies to improve awareness of mental health resources among first-year students. Items currently in progress include establishing a UHS Student Health Advisory Board by Spring 2023 and improving the visibility of the advisor’s images on the CPS website.
Within the residential colleges on campus, the university works to “construct[ing] From a robust crisis response system that is not wholly dependent on public safety (a realization that interactions with fully equipped officers can exacerbate situations).
This will include utilizing the new Residential Life Coordinator (RLC) position, as well as establishing contacts from UHS to ensure that residential college staff are “also aware of resources and support related to subclinical needs – such as those available through” peer health advisors (PHAs); Counseling, Resources and Education on Sexual Harassment/Abuse (SHARE); Office of Religious Life (ORL); and others. These two components are scheduled to be completed by the spring of 2023.
A number of recommendations regarding residential college resources are currently under review. One suggests that the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students, along with Undergraduate Services, consider creating “a process for DSLs (managers of student life) to indicate students’ junk food use levels when assessing concerns about student well-being.”
To generate recommendations related to Tigerwheel The working group reviewed outreach and other CPS counselors and off-campus care, the CPS Spring 2022 satisfaction survey and student feedback from USG channels, and also surveyed students who had been referred to off-campus providers in the past two years.
In a letter to The Daily Princetonian, Daniels wrote, “I am personally proud to say that nearly every recommendation is a result of the comments a member of the working group has heard from other students about their Princeton experience.”
The report identified that while CPS clients generally describe their satisfaction with the services provided, there are currently two significant concerns: first, that students face long wait times when seeking out CPS services, and second, that there is “inadequate support for students of color, LGBTQ+ students and other students from underrepresented backgrounds and identities.”
They found that the median waiting time for an initial CPS consultation was 5.22 days, with the median wait between the initial consultation and ingestion being 14.75 days. Some individual counselors also had longer waiting times than others.
The report details that the Vice President for Campus Life has committed to working with the Office of Progress to “[pursue] Fundraising efforts for the continuation of TigerWell, including the Outreach Counsellor Program, beyond [fiscal year] 2024 as a priority”, with the aim of institutionalizing the Outreach Counsellor Program since the scholarship expires. The deadline for this component is set for Summer 2023.
By the spring of 2023, CPS Director Dr. Calvin Chen is tasked with adding more staff to the Outreach Counsellor Program, with the potential to hire new specialty counselors “designated for students with disabilities or chronic pain/disease.”
Another component underway aims to “identify funding to support transportation to off-campus care, including the possibility of purchasing vouchers to Lyft, or perhaps creating a Well Ride program here at Princeton.”
The report states that while students demonstrated an interest in telehealth options as well as in-person services, students also raised concerns about a “lack of private, bookable places on campus for telehealth appointments”. In direct response to this concern, the director of CPS has compiled and continues to maintain a list of private rooms on campus available for use for telehealth appointments. Additionally, all appointment reminder emails now include links to available telehealth places on campus.
Several other initiatives related to telehealth are currently underway. By the spring of 2023, the CPS director intends to change messaging in order to “reduce access” to after-hours counseling lines and expand counseling availability during office hours. Moreover, by the fall of 2023, 24/7 on-demand consultancy services will be established.
All proposals are reviewed to develop a mental health screening tool for students to complete at the beginning of each academic year, encourage participation in mental health trainings during the winter session, and explore opportunities to expand the number of soundproof spaces on campus.
The report also covered two additional main topics. In conversations about academics, the group discussed counseling, more flexibility in grading and pass/D/Fail policies, breaks in the academic calendar, and increased support and resources for students on leave of absence.
In addition, the group discussed supporting the Asia Pacific Islands (API) community “especially after the tragic loss of two students at the end of last semester”. The group formed a Mental Health API Working Group with administrators and alumni with plans to collaborate with students and meet throughout the year to develop a list of recommendations. Additionally, a partnership between CPS and the Asian American Student Association (AASA) will develop programming to “reduce the stigma around access to care that has historically prevailed in the API community.”
The working group drafted the report in the belief that “these efforts demonstrate the importance of students being in direct conversation with university decision makers” and highlighted their hope that the group would serve as a “model for meaningful change across campus.”
“I hope this report will be the beginning of a larger conversation about the leadership role that Princeton University can play in combating the current global mental health crisis,” Daniels wrote in a letter to Prince. The Group intends to provide quarterly updates on the report’s recommendations.
Alison Araten is a news writer for The Prince. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and alisonaraten on Instagram.
Annie Robertos is a Philadelphia freshman and news staff writer covering USG for “The Prince.” She can be reached at email@example.com or @annierupertus on Instagram and Twitter.
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