The Oberlin Review

Administration, Students Must Collaborate to Deal with Mental Health on Campus

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A campus-wide email was sent out to students Oct. 30 by Associate Dean of Students Matthew Hayden, asking them to participate in the Healthy Minds Study. The survey was designed by the Healthy Minds Study Team of the University of Michigan to give students a chance to reflect on and express concerns with mental health stressors within the institution and campus environment. The survey also aims to heighten awareness of sources of support. In the survey, students are asked about their eating and sleeping habits, substance use and abuse, current and past emotional and mental health, and body image.

Upon reflecting on this study and our current state of affairs as an institution, I have come to see it as a potential tool for the beginnings of substantive change on this campus, as it allows for administrators to see with little filter how being in Oberlin’s campus environment is affecting students’ quality of life.

However, since an opinion is only valid to the person who holds it, I sought the opinions of other students regarding what they knew or felt about the survey. I asked six students — most of whom were familiar with the survey — across class years for their thoughts, and collected a few highlights from those conversations.

Most students, while seeing the value of the survey, are weary of being excited about the potential for action because of past experiences or previously held opinions of the administration’s ability to effect substantive change. One student in particular, College junior Samuel Scheeres, emphasized the vital role of the student body in creating change that the administration cannot make up for. One of the roles the student body must take on for example is changing the culture around mental health. Oberlin students have a tendency to glamorize poor mental health states, especially regarding busy culture. This sort of cultural change cannot come from the administration; it can only come from Oberlin students themselves.

Another student, College first-year Magali Coronado, believes that there is potential for change, but only if there is widespread participation in the survey explaining what students feel they need from the administration and from each other. She also highlighted the summary at the end of the survey that tells students whether their self-reported behaviors and feelings mirror symptoms of various mental health issues, and lists conditions and symptoms flagged by the answers a participant gives.
Some individuals I talked to found this portion at the end emotionally distressing. While there was a warning about it at the beginning of the survey, some students were alarmed to learn that their everyday behaviors could be symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

With those valid caveats in mind, I think that this survey may provide some real potential for both personal growth through honest reflection, as it did for me, as well as give students a chance to let their voices be heard to the higher powers of this institution. Change is possible, but only if the administration enacts policies that students express a need for in the survey, and if Oberlin students look to change the way we talk about mental health around campus.

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