Cornell Mental Health: Students Speak Out

When I first got involved in mental health advocacy as a freshman, Cornell University was behind in the game. Cornell is an Ivy League school with a very “work hard, play hard” mentality that creates a lot of mental health issues. There are various intersections with related issues, such as high sexual assault rates and substance abuse rates. Cornell is situated within a rural health system, not in an urban area that has a large number of top-rated physicians and psychiatrists. Over time, I saw my friends suffer from the grueling amounts of stress, diagnoses of depression and anxiety, and difficulties finding help including the stigma around seeking help.

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Memorial Room, Willard Straight Hall, Cornell University

These factors led me, along with some fellow students, to establish a student task force on mental health earlier this year. The task force consists of more than 20 students from various backgrounds and campus communities, people with different motivations and different goals. Some of the task force members had been on leaves of absence related to mental health. Some had struggled with anxiety and depression themselves. Others were just very active advocates in the community, whether in service generally or in mental health issues specifically. We all had the common goal of improving mental health at Cornell and in the wider Ithaca community.

Over the course of six months we have worked diligently to research initiatives and policies, gain an understanding about the systems and issues that face Cornell specifically, and develop recommendations with the hope of making Cornell the gold standard for student mental health. We sought to reflect on ourselves critically, and explore areas where efforts were lacking. Is it the administration? Is it students? Is it staff? Is it faculty? Is it mental health services? Or is it the connection with the Ithaca community?

We focused on three key areas: mental health services, academics, and leaves of absence.

We examined what mental health services are provided to students at Cornell, specifically professional help. This involves the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), but it also involves a lot of other players including therapists and clinics in the Ithaca community. At Cornell, there has been an uptick not only in depression and anxiety but in help-seeking behavior. Both these things are causing CAPS to be overloaded regardless of how many qualified counselors they hire. We need to hire more counselors. We need to reduce the long wait times for therapy and psychiatry appointments. We want to make sure there is a strong system for referring students to therapists in the community. We need to ensure that students who require regular and constant help are getting it either at CAPS or in the community.

Another priority of our task force is the intersection of academics with mental health. We asked, “In what ways are academics either contributing to the mental health epidemic or supporting it?” We found that specific campus communities, or tracks, at Cornell are very stress-inducing. For example, cultures around engineering and architecture support students staying up past 2 a.m. to do work and destroy their bodies for the sake of their future careers. This is obviously not very conducive to a solid mental health foundation for any individual. We looked at measures such as the implementation of mandatory training for Resident Assistants, faculty, and staff that enables us to identify students in distress more quickly. We would like to see leeway given to struggling students, such as a check on their attendance even when they are unable to attend classes. We cannot have academics causing students to cascade into very stressful situations or even suicide.

The third priority is the university’s leave of absence policy, and whether it is conducive or not for students seeking leaves for mental health reasons. We would like to see the administration better supporting such leaves. We ask, “How can we align students with better support as they seek a leave of absence, when they are on leave, and when they are returning from a leave?”

The task force will host a community forum on Friday, October 19 from 5–7 p.m. in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall. We will present our findings and recommendations, and solicit more student input as well as comments and suggestions from the Ithaca community. We seek a candid and open discussion about how student mental health can be improved.

Soon, following the input we receive at the forum, we will circulate our recommendations, invite signatures of support from students, faculty, staff, and others, and present them to the Cornell administration. Our message will be: “Here is what we found. How can we as students continue to work with you on this.” We don’t want it to necessarily be a bash of the administration. We want the recommendations to highlight the critical things that the administration is not doing or could do better, so that we can all work together to achieve the mental health goals we want to see in our community.

We applaud the administration’s recent announcement that it will pursue a “comprehensive review of student mental health.” We call on the administration to ensure that this review is independent, thorough, and transparent. There needs to be multi-stakeholder involvement, including administration, staff, faculty, and community members. And the independent review must include full student participation. We the students know what we need. We the students know what needs to be changed.

—By Matthew Jirsa

Matthew Jirsa ’19, a Biology and Society major in Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences, is the co-chair with Joanna Hua of the student task force on mental health. He is also co-president of Cornell Minds Matter, and co-chair of Cornell Mental Health Awareness Week 2018.

Ithaca Cupcakes 2018: Special Awards

Contestants in the 3rd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest on Saturday offered up some gorgeous and tasty entries—congratulations to these winners of Special Awards!

Most Masterful Musical Melody Award

Natalie McCaskill-Myers

Most Creatively Crafty Cupcake

Sally Brenner

Most Fabulously Floral Cupcake

Aušra Milano

Most Awesome Autumn

Robyn Schmitt

Most Magnificent Marvelous Moose Masterpiece

Claire Litwin

Most Sensationally Cinnamony Cupcake

Isabella Jones and Navia Marshall

Most Must Eat the Whole Chocolatey-Minty Thing Award

Rhonda Williamsee

The Everything Fun about Fall Cupcake

Sean Vickroy

Most Caramel Crave-Quenching Confection

Alana Craib

Chilliest Coconut Cake Confection

Matilde Portnoy

Best Cupcake to Take on the Trail

Ella Corson

Best Campfire Cupcake

Maggie Chutter

Most Likely to Make the Judges Go Coco for Coconut Award

Cierra Howard

Best Flavorful Fall Frosting

Jessara Thomas

Most Luxuriously Luscious Lavender Cupcake

Oluademi James-Daniel

Best Birthday cupCake

Ella Kain

Pretty in Pink Award

Ibtisaam Ahmed

Novel Neopolitan

Jenna Kain

Harvest Cupcake

Lianna White

Chocolate Chili

Sadie Hays

Best Carrot Top

Sul Jordan

Most Luscious Lemon

Talon Jordan

Tastiest Toastiest Pumpkin

Cristin McLaughin and Searra Lindhurst

Ultimate Chocolate Tower

Sonia and Ella Carr

Classic Superstar

Matt Jirsa for Cornell Minds Matter

 

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Natalie McCaskill-Myers’s entry:  Pumpkin apple spice cupcakes with cream cheese cardamom frosting, decorated with violins, soccer balls… and black cats representing Sophie’s cat Bagel and Natalie’s cat Curry Burger.

 

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Sally Brenner’s entry: Chocolate cupcakes with Key lime and kiwi-flavored frosting

 

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Aušra Milano’s entry: Amaretto chocolate cupcakes decorated with a flower arrangement

 

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Robyn Schmitt’s entry: Cinnamon and apple cupcakes

 

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Claire Litwin’s entry: Passion fruit curd, passion fruit mousse, and chocolate mousse in a joconde sponge cake, decorated with moose antlers in homage to the mousse layers

 

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Isabella Jones and Navia Marshall’s entry: Pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple frosting and a cinnamon stick

 

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Rhonda Williamsee’s entry: Mint chocolate “cocoa coma” cupcakes

 

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Sean Vickroy’s entry: Apple butter cupcakes with red winter frosting in the holiday spirit

 

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Alana Craib’s entry: Yellow cupcakes with maple frosting and candied walnuts

 

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Matilde Portnoy’s entry: “Tropicupcakes” with roasted almonds and cinnamon cream cheese frosting

 

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Ella Corson’s entry: Granola chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting

 

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Maggie Chutter’s entry: “Banana Boat Cupcakes,” with chocolate ganache core and meringue frosting

 

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Cierra Howard’s entry: “Macadamia Coconut Cupcakes,” frosted with Swiss meringue buttercream and topped with a coconut macaroon ball

 

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Jessara Thomas’s entry: Pumpkin and spice cupcakes with a pumpkin decoration on top

 

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Oluademi James-Daniel’s entry: Yellow lemon cupcake with a purple Earl Grey and lavender frosting

 

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Ella Kain’s entry: Lemon cupcakes with buttercream frosting

 

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Ibtisaam Ahmed: entry: “Rose Cupcakes, a Fusion of East and West.” American-style vanilla cupcakes with crème patisserie of European bakeries and delicate rose flavor common in North Africa, Middle East, Persia and the Indian subcontinent.

 

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Jenna Kain’s entry: Neapolitan cupcakes with strawberry buttercream frosting

 

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Lianna White’s entry: Gluten-free carrot, raisin, and walnut cupcakes with cashew buttercream frosting

 

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Sadie Hays’s entry: “Noche Buena,” a coffee and chili-infused New Mexican chocolate cupcake topped with whipped cream and a biscochito

 

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Sul Jordan’s entry: Pumpkin spice cupcakes with buttercream frosting

 

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Talon Jordan’s entry: Lemon cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting

 

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Cristin McLaughin and Searra Lindhurst’s entry: Vegan Pumpin S’more Vegan Cupcakes with marshmallow filling and chocolate frosting

 

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Sonia and Ella Carr’s entry: “The Chocolate Tower” triple-chocolate fudge cupcakes with strawberry-flavored fudge frosting

 

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Matt Jirsa for Cornell Minds Matter’s entry: Classic cupcakes with star-shaped sprinkles

Ithaca Cupcakes 2018: Honorable Mention Awards

There were masterpieces aplenty at the 3rd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in the Ithaca Commons on Saturday. Six contestants with their incredible entries made a valiant challenge and were presented with Honorable Mention Awards.

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Sophie Callister’s entry: Pumpkin spice cupcake with cream cheese spice frosting, and yellow sprinkles and a candied bee decoration.

The Honorable Mention awardees were presented with $20 gift certificates from Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop and $20 gift certificates from GreenStar Natural Foods Market.

Honorable Mention

Alexandra and Taylor Beauvais

Sophie Callister

Hannah and Cheryl Stephenson

Patti Meyers and Hudson

Tamarynde Cacciotti

Mary Sever-Schoonmaker

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Alexandra and Taylor Beauvais’s entry: Apple spice cake with caramel maple apple pie filling and topped with caramel maple cream cheese frosting and a chocolate New York State decoration.

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Hannah and Cheryl Stephenson’s entry: “A Perfect Cup of Joe Cupcakes,” with coffee, chocolate, and cream.

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Patti Meyers and Hudson’s entry: “Magic Unicorn Cone Cakes.” Lemon cupcakes baked in an edible ice cream cone with vanilla frosting, marshmallow ears and rainbow sprinkles.

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Tamarynde Cacciotti’s entry: Pecan pie cupcake, with pecan pie filling topped with a salted maple buttercream frosting, garnished with pie crust hearts.

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Mary Sever-Schoonmaker’s entry: “If You Like Pina Colada” cupcakes. Moist coconut cake filled with a homemade pineapple compote and topped with a fluffy coconut rum icing.

Ithaca’s Best Cupcakes 2018

Here are the top winners in the 3rd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund in the Ithaca Commons on October 13. (More winners will be posted soon!)

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Zoe Dubrow (right) won the Grand Prize

 

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Zoe Dubrow’s “Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes” contained a cored whole strawberry filled with salted butterscotch. The concoctions were topped by a brown sugar cream cheese frosting, decorated with a chocolate fan, sliced strawberry, mint leaves, and a mini chocolate strawberry macaron.

1st Prize

$250 gift certificate for GreenStar Natural Foods Market

Zoe Dubrow

 

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Jennifer Dobmeier’s “Key Lime Pie Cupcake” is the Second Prize winner in the 3rd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest! The Key lime-scented vanilla cake with a lime curd filling was topped with a Key lime buttercream frosting.

2nd Prize

La Tourelle Hotel, Bistro, and Spa gift certificate (one night stay, Bistro breakfast, August Moon Spa)

Jennifer Dobmeier

 

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Erin Morris won the Third Prize in the 3rd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest with German chocolate cupcakes topped by a swirl of pink icing made from homemade jam using local farmer’s market strawberries.

3rd Prize

$50 gift certificate for GreenStar Natural Foods Market

Erin Morris

 

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Kyra O’Toole won the Youth Award for 18s & Under. She overcame tough competition with a set of chocolate cheesecake cupcakes, with an Oreo crust, chocolate cream filling, chocolate cream frosting.

Youth Award

$100 gift certificate from the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (redeemable at more than 100 local businesses)

Kyra O’Toole

 

Snapshot of all the Winners

1st Place (Grand Prize)

Zoe Dubrow

2nd Place

Jennifer Dobmeier

3rd Place

Erin Morris

Youth Award

Krya O’Toole

 

Honorable Mention

Alexandra and Taylor Beauvais

Sophie Callister

Hannah and Cheryl Stephenson

Patti Meyers and Hudson

Tamarynde Cacciotti

Mary Sever-Schoonmaker

 

Special Awards

Natalie McCaskill-Myers

Sally and Rebecca Brenner

Aušra Milano

Robyn Schmitt

Claire Litwin

Isabella Jones and Navia Marshall

Ali Strongwater

Rhonda Williamee

Sean Vickroy

Alana Craib

Matilde Portnoy

Ella Corson

Maggie Chutter

Cierra Howard

Jessara Thomas

Oluademi James-Daniel

Ella Kain

Ibtisaam Ahmed

Jenna Kain

Lianna White

Sadie Hays

Sul Jordan

Talon Jordan

Cristin McLaughlin and Searra Lindhurst

Sonia and Ella Carr

Matt Jirsa for Cornell Minds Matter

 

Now My Heart is Full

Laura June spent nearly a decade in journalism before she ever considered writing a book of her own. Even then, she imagined she would dive into fiction writing if she got the urge to publish. However, giving birth to a daughter changed everything. The desire grew to write about what was present in her own life—entering motherhood with her newborn. The result: Now My Heart is Full: A Memoir, published by Penguin Books.

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“I found that this kind of writing resonated with people, not because I was an expert in parenting, but because I was the opposite of it,” June said during her talk at the “Readings on Mental Health” series at Buffalo Street Books on October 7.

Initially, June began writing essays about her daughter, Zelda, as well some journalistic pieces that covered maternity leave and healthcare. These ventures led to a gig with New York magazine, an ideal platform for developing material for a book on motherhood.

Before submitting a book proposal, June realized her own mother remained “the elephant in the room.” June’s mom had died at age 52, and had been an alcoholic for as long as June could remember. She decided that in order to write a book about motherhood, she needed to include her relationship to her own mother, and the memoir began to settle on the question, “How would I describe my mother to my daughter?” While June’s memoir is often explained as a story about mothers, June understands it to be that and more. It encompasses genealogy and alcoholism/addiction as well as a compelling story about how these elements shape mother-daughter relations.

June read an excerpt of her work, which centered on her initial conception of her relationship with her mother:

“This dissonance — that my sober mother loved me very much, that she braided my hair and sang to me, bought me little matching jumpers and sock sets, and made sure I was inoculated and had a lunch packed with little love notes in pen on the napkin tucked inside, but then forgot to even bother picking me up occasionally, with barely a nod in my direction in apology after the fact — this dissonance that I began to experience, where suddenly I wasn’t first on her list but now seemed last, was quite confusing. I was too confused to take it personally. I felt nervous, and it was the nervousness that I would also keep for years to come.”

As this small section indicates, June’s work integrates nuanced emotion and complexity to tell a rich and poignant story about motherhood and alcoholism.

In a Q&A session after her reading, a woman asked when June intended to share this story with her daughter, who is now 4 years old. The book remains on the shelf for now, but June suspects when the time is right, the book will find its way into her daughter’s hands.

—By Margaret McKinnis

Margaret McKinnis, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a junior at Ithaca College majoring in Writing and minoring in English and Honors. She is a nonfiction editor at Stillwater, a student literary magazine, and an assistant director of the New Voices Literary Festival.

“Readings on Mental Health” is presented by the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, hosted by Buffalo Street Books, and sponsored by The Sophie Fund.