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Brown hosts second annual Ivy League mental health conference

Students from the eight schools meet to discuss mental health issues, accessibility improvements

Student delegations from all Ivy League universities convened at Brown over the weekend for the second annual Ivy League Mental Health Conference. Hosted by Brown’s Project LETS, the conference brought over 70 students to College Hill to discuss mental health trends and  accessibility to mental health care resources on their respective campuses.

During the conference, students were able to attend a series of workshops covering topics like structural racism and interpersonal violence and trauma, according to the conference’s website. “We wanted (the workshops) to be about specific topics that we know to be really close and important to students but not (regularly discussed),” said Stefanie Kaufman ’17, founder of Project LETS and co-organizer of the conference. “We know that racism is a problem … and that it’s connected to (worsening) mental illness, but what are we doing (to stop) that?”

The workshops were led by professionals with established careers in mental health care who were picked by the conference’s board, said Yuki Inaba ’17. The board consisted of Brown students who attended the conference last year or who helped put last year’s Brown delegation together, she added.

Each school was allowed to send a delegation consisting of eight to 10 students selected through an application process overseen by the conference board, Inaba said.

The board tried to prioritize selecting students with “lived experiences with mental illness … or a passion (for improving) access to mental health resources,” she added.

Workshop speakers included David Rivera, associate professor of Educational and Community Programs at Queens College, and Alana Sacks, a Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education advocate from Brown. The conference also featured Alfiee Breland-Noble, director of the African American Knowledge Optimized for Mindfully-Healthy Adolescents Project.

“The theme of the conference (was) creating sustainable change in our institutions,” said Lacy Cano ’18, who also co-organized the conference. “We really tried to stress (to the students) … this shouldn’t be a conversation that occurs once a year.”

With the conference’s theme of fostering long-term progress, a lot of the discussion between students centered on making policy changes, Inaba said. Brown’s delegation expressed interest in “working with the new (CAPS) director on (mental health) initiatives,” she added. Specifically, students were interested in “reducing the amount of questions asked” during initial appointments with counselors.

Students from a number of delegations, including Brown’s, were also interested in “reforming the medical leave process,” which students have found alienating in the past, Kaufman said.

Brown students proposed creating a “check-in process … where a professional from the university or a student advocate (would be) required to check on a student on medical leave,” Kaufman said. The delegation also proposed reducing “the mandatory medical leave time from one year to one semester,” she added.

Students also wanted to increase the number of crisis management resources available on Brown’s campus, Kaufman said. “A lot of other schools have peer-led crisis hotlines. … That is work we are trying to address (at Brown).”

John Avendano, a student from Columbia who attended the conference, said that the differences between Brown’s open curriculum and Columbia’s core curriculum “lead to a very different culture surrounding mental health and stress … which is very palpable when you first step onto (Brown’s) campus.”

“It seems that there’s the same level of drive and ambition, but it’s more collaborative … Brown’s system of grading makes it less likely that students want to eat each other,” he added.

Neela Saha, a student from Cornell, said that Cornell’s CAPS “is horribly understaffed … there are 21,000 students … and only 14 licensed psychologists” on hand to serve them. “They work very hard, but they don’t have a lot of funding,” she added.

Kaufman said Cornell was doing well with “holding professors accountable … when working with students struggling with their mental health.” Cornell’s delegation gave attendees the guidebook created for Cornell faculty members about addressing mental health topics with struggling students. Kaufman, upon hearing about the guidebook, expressed interest in bringing something similar to Brown.

Conference members are “working pretty hard to … set up (their) network” to continue holding discussions throughout the year, Cano said. “While the conference is over, the work is just starting, and we need to be diligent in following up (on the topics we discussed),” she added.

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