Nikhil Rao and Raleigh Cury, co-facilitators of the UNC Mental Health Coalition, wrote a letter to University leadership with six demands for prioritizing student mental health on Oct. 9 — the University's recommended mental health day.
Cury helped found the Mental Health Coalition two years ago to bring together groups advocating for student mental health. Now, she and Rao aim to increase the coalition's presence on campus.
The University asked faculty to pause instruction on Oct. 9 in observance of World Mental Health Day. But Cury said that, though the pause in classes was a nice sentiment, it was not good policy.
“It's not an optional Mental Health Day, not everyone got it,” Cury said. “I definitely didn't get it.”
The letter addresses concerns for the mental health of students throughout the entire fall semester with few breaks — while advocating for changes the University can implement in the spring and beyond.
“We assert that University prioritization of mental health doesn’t just look like an optional and poorly advertised 'pause' on classes,” Cury and Rao said in the letter. “Mental health looks like assuaging uncertainty and preserving safety through comprehensive planning, transparency, and systemic change.”
At the end of the letter, they included a list of six demands to University leadership. The list includes:
- publishing the “off-ramp” criteria moving forward
- publicizing which groups are making decisions about campus reopening and what those decisions are
- understanding when mandates come from the Board of Governors
- making materials about UNC System functioning accessible
- increasing funding for Counseling and Psychological Services and other departments that handle mental health
- asking for an explanation as to why the Election Day off request was denied
Cury and Rao said they gave University leadership until Friday, Oct. 16 at 5 p.m. to respond to their letter. In a Monday interview, they said they had not yet received a response.
UNC Media Relations said in an email on Monday that University leaders have received the letter.
“The well-being and mental health of our community is a priority for the University and the Chancellor; he will respond directly to the co-facilitators in regard to the concerns they outlined," Media Relations said in the email.
The letter also details the co-facilitators' concerns about the schedule for the spring semester, which will start on a two-week delay and include five "wellness days" instead of a traditional spring break.
"Since March, we have been making operational decisions and plans for our campus based on the best information and recommendations available about the coronavirus, and as our understanding of the virus changes, we must adapt our plans for the health and safety of our community," Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in the campus email announcing the revised schedule on Oct. 8. "This will remain true for the spring semester."
When students received this announcement, they learned they "must do it all again in the spring” following an already expedited fall semester, Cury and Rao said in the letter.
Cury said it is important to remember that some decisions come from places higher than South Building. The BOG and the N.C. General Assembly make many decisions about the education of students in the UNC System, she said.
Cury said they want to work with University administrators to improve mental health resources and create a better place to learn.
"We don't want to have to release statements like this, but we don't get what we want out of meetings," Cury said. "We’re trying to advocate for students, we're bringing concerns we've heard from folks and then we get stonewalled repeatedly.”
Rao said this letter is important, but he knows the coalition will continue to have more work to do.
“We know that college students are ultimately a population with a high prevalence of mental illness and substance use,” Rao said. “But we also know that this statement is not going to be it in terms of, like, what is needed to continue holding the University and governmental figures accountable.”
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