Nearly 200 people traveled a collective total of 337 miles in the rain and raised $11,692.32 on April 30 in the first-ever Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention to take place on the Cornell University campus.
Cornell Swimming & Diving Team
Throngs with ponchos, umbrellas, yellow galoshes, or just getting soaked in an April shower, including Cornell fraternity brothers, the Swimming & Diving, Tennis, and Volleyball teams, among others in the Cornell community, trekked the two-mile route from Corson-Mudd Hall, to the College of Veterinary Medicine, Feeney Way, and back again.
“By showing up today, you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health,” said chief organizer Cheyanne Scholl during an opening ceremony inside the Corson-Mudd atrium.
“You are sending the message that reaching out for help is the strong thing to do. You are showing others that the issue of suicide cannot and will not be kept in the darkness. And thanks to you, we remain hopeful.”
More than 500 Out of the Darkness walks are held across the country each year by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to raise awareness, collect research funds, and send a message that “suicide is preventable and no one is alone.” In 2022, Overnight, Community, and Campus walks raised more than $21 million.
Among the participants in the Cornell walk were 14 campus fundraising teams, with Team Malibu raising the most funds, $1,450. Other top teams included SCL-TCOB, Cornell Vet, Alpha Gamma Rho, and The Statler Hotel. Skye Krehbiel was the top individual fundraiser with $1,210, and Michelle Moyal was second with $698.02.
Local businesses also supported the walk with donations, including Wegmans Panera Bread, Mirabito, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, Big Red Barbershop, and Cornell University.
Stacy Ayres and Crystal Howser of AFSP, and Co-Chair Cheyanne Scholl
In her remarks, Scholl explained that she has been involved with AFSP since 2017, when she participated in a walk at Iowa State University to honor a very close high school friend, Jack, a student there who had recently died by suicide. She was a first-year student at the time, and she recalled how “my life flipped on me” as she grieved Jack’s death.
“As a new college student experiencing such a tremendous loss, I was very lost and did not know where to turn,” she said. “The support and help I received from everyone around me was incredibly helpful. I learned that it is okay to reach out when you need help, you are not alone.”
Want to get involved? AFSP Greater Central New York will host a Greater Ithaca Walk on September 9, 2023. Click here to register or donate. To volunteer with AFSP, click here.
When Scholl moved to Ithaca from Iowa last summer to start a new job at Cornell, she spent part of the 16-hour car ride researching the local AFSP chapter determined to explore holding a Cornell walk. Backed by AFSP Greater Central New York, Scholl and a team of Cornell students and staff members including Scholl’s co-chair Daniel Richter spent months organizing the event on the sprawling campus.
Alpha Gamma Rho
Also speaking at the event was Kathleen Stathopoulos, whose son Yiannis ’24, a third-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student in the College of Veterinary Medicine, died by suicide last summer. He was president of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association, and worked at an animal hospital. Stathopoulos shared that Yiannis was a mental health advocate who sought to reduce the high suicide rate among vet school students.
Stathopoulos said her son was known for his self-assurance. The 24-year-old was an avid body builder who loved to ski, golf, fly his drone, ride his motorcycle, and attend Mets games. “Yianni, above everything, loved his family,” she said. In the weeks before he died, he had rescued two kittens and a rabbit and nurtured them back to health. Yiannis’s death, she said, seemed to come out of the blue.
“Yianni was active, he was engaged, he was involved,” Stathopoulos recalled. “He was a person who was alive. He smiled an infectious smile. I had no idea that Yianni had any kind of suicidal thoughts. His family had no idea, the closest of his friends, his teachers and administrators, they had no idea. Everybody was shocked.”
She added: “When they came to Yianni’s memorial in Brooklyn, people said, ‘Yianni? Not Yianni. Yianni had it all. He was living the dream. How did this happen?’ But it did happen.”
Stathopoulos said that while Yiannis projected strength, he appears to have been very good at hiding behind that image. “How could a person who’s looked at like a Greek god, so confident, now say to people, ‘I’m having a problem. I feel like I might do something to myself.’ That would be shattering the image. Yianni had that image and protected it. If Yianni could have just realized it’s okay not to be okay. Mental illness is just like any other illness. It’s not a character flaw.”
Yiannis’s mother urged the students participating in the walk to seek mental health support if they are struggling. “If there’s anyone out there thinking that something’s wrong, if that bully in the brain is telling you you’re not good, fight it, tell somebody, tell a professional, tell a friend, tell a loved one. Talk to somebody. It will help.”
Another speaker was Scott MacLeod, whose daughter Sophie ’14, a senior in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, died by suicide in 2016 at age 23 while on a health leave of absence from Cornell. MacLeod described how his family and friends established The Sophie Fund in Ithaca to advocate for improved mental health support for young people, including students at Cornell and other local campuses.
Why We Walk
Some of the comments written on the Cornell walk’s “Why We Walk” banner:
“All our loved ones we have lost, and to those who keep fighting each day. You matter and are not alone. My Dad, my hero.”
“For Sam, my best friend.”
“For the Czymmek family and in the loving memory of Will. We are still here for you.”
“For Chris. You are loved!”
“For Greg and his family, and everyone who struggles.”
“For all the student athletes and those struggling.”
“For my mom’s struggle.”
“For my brother Kyle, and all those who suffer.”
“For my trans siblings, I love you.”
“For Dong Hao.”
“Never stop fighting!”
Laurie Conlon, Jessica Withers, and Co-Chair Daniel Richter
Cornell Women’s Volleyball Team
Carolina Baquerizo, Alayzha Turner-Rodgers, and Hannah Van Bergen of the College of Veterinary Medicine
Hope Walks Here
Have a Real Conversation
Hope Walks Here
Cornell walkers raised $11,692.32 for AFSP educational programming and research
If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.
Spring is here, and so is National Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on your own well-being, and check in on how your loved ones and friends are doing. And it’s a chance to be part of a community that fights the stigma around mental illness and advances improvements in mental health care.
There’s a lot happening in the greater Ithaca community!
Better Together for Mental Health
On Saturday May 13, Mental health stakeholders in Tompkins County are organizing an amazing event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Stewart Park in Ithaca to celebrate mental health and spread awareness about mental health care.
Free activities for all ages will include guided nature walks, yoga, live music (featuring NEO Project), writing workshops, street performers (including Nate the Great), food (Luna Inspired Street Food and Purity Ice Cream) and more.
Organizers include: Racker, Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca, Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, Story House Ithaca, Health and Unity for Greg, The Sophie Fund, Tompkins County Whole Health, Tompkins County Youth Services Department, Family Reading Partnership, Free Voice, Mama’s Comfort Camp, Tompkins Learning Partners, Community Foundation of Tompkins County, and Don Manuel Presents, YMCA of Ithaca and Tompkins County
Better Together for Mental Health is sponsored by Health and Unity for Greg, Johnson & Johnson, Sciarabba Walker & Co. LLP, The Sophie Fund, Tompkins Community Bank, True Insurance, Kinney Drugs, Northwestern Mutual, and Warren Real Estate.
Click here to learn more about Better Together for Mental Health.
On Saturday May 6, the Finger Lakes chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness hosts NAMIWalks from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Cass Park in Ithaca. According to the organizers, you can “run, walk, roller skate, or bike—bring the whole gang!”
The event is meant to raise awareness about mental health and raise funds for NAMI Finger Lakes. The organization provides support for families and friends of people diagnosed with major mental illnesses, educates about mental health conditions, and advocates for families and their loved ones.
Click here for more information, to register for NAMIWalks, or to donate.
Mental Health Month Toolkit
Mental Health America provides a wealth of information and materials to help individuals, organizations, and even businesses to participate in National Mental Health Awareness Month.
MHA’s 2023 toolkit includes information about how an individual’s environment impacts their mental health, suggestions for making changes to improve and maintain mental well-being, and how to seek help for mental health challenges.
The toolkit provides a mental health screening tool, tips on advocating for legislative changes, ways to hold community events, and ideas for how businesses can support employee mental health.
Click here to download the Mental Health America toolkit.
Tompkins County Mental Health Support and Crisis Services
Take the time to know what mental health support resources are available. Resources are helpful to those experiencing mental health disorders, as well as to their families and friends. If you are at all concerned about your mental health, or about a loved one or someone you know, stay educated about mental health and how to get help. You may even save a life.
The Sophie Fund has released the 2023 guide to Mental Health Support and Crisis Services in Tompkins County.
The two-pager provides quick phone numbers and web links for suicide prevention, community and campus mental health clinics, local addiction recovery services, and sexual assault and domestic violence awareness and victim support. It also includes information about family and youth mental health support groups and how to locate a local primary care physician.
Copies of the guide can be posted on community bulletin boards and in clinical waiting rooms, distributed at schools, places of worship, and public events, or given to family members and friends. The guide can be easily downloaded and saved to laptops and mobile phones (note the QR code at the bottom of the guide) and shared via emails and social media.
Inspiration for the guide came from Cayuga Health Partners, which saw the value of providing the resource to primary care patients who screened for behavioral health complaints.
The Sophie Fund developed the guide in consultation with community health organizations, including the Tompkins County Whole Health, Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, Cayuga Health, and Guthrie Cortland.
“There continues to be a stigma around mental health and seeking help for problems like depression, substance abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence,” said Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund.
“We hope that the guide will help people see how normal and easy it is to reach out for professional help. We also hope that the guide cuts through any confusion folks may have about the array of services available to them in the greater Ithaca community.”
DOWNLOAD Mental Health Support and Crisis Services PDF
[TW: suicide] An advocacy organization and two current students filed a lawsuit against Yale University on November 30 alleging systemic discrimination against students with mental health disabilities.
The lawsuit asserts that Yale’s policies, the risks of being forced to withdraw from the university, and the burdens placed on students when they withdraw and subsequently seek reinstatement, deter students from seeking the mental health treatment they need and from requesting accommodations for their disability.
Elis for Rachael, Inc., a nonprofit organization supporting Yale students in crisis or with mental health disabilities, along with two undergraduates, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut. The lawsuit names the President and Fellows (trustees) of Yale University as defendants.
Elis for Rachael was formed by alumni after the March 2021 suicide death of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum, 18, of Anchorage, Alaska, who was in her first year at Yale with hopes of becoming a lawyer. She reportedly took her own life after contemplating the consequences of withdrawing from Yale; and worrying she might be kicked out if she sought hospitalization for intensifying suicide ideation.
The plaintiffs are pursuing class action status representing “all Yale students who have, or have a record of, mental health disabilities and who are being harmed, or reasonably fear being harmed, by the illegal policies and practices challenged in this lawsuit.”
Another in an occasional series of articles about student mental health. For more information, go to The Sophie Fund’s Student Mental Health Page
For the past decade, the lawsuit asserts, members of the Yale community, including the Elis for Rachael organization, have endeavored to persuade Yale to change its policies and practices; but the efforts saw few results.
“Plaintiff Elis for Rachael, though counsel, wrote to Yale on August 8, 2022, in an attempt to resolve these claims amicably and without the need to file this lawsuit,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit seeks no monetary damages, but demands injunctive relief to “to remedy Yale University’s systemic discrimination against students with mental health disabilities.” (Eli is a moniker for a Yale student in reference to a 17th century philanthropist for whom the school is named.)
Yale’s Mental Health Policies
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Yale refuses or makes it unreasonably difficult for students experiencing mental health symptoms to obtain accommodations for their coursework or housing.
It further alleges that Yale’s withdrawal and leave of absence policies and practices discriminate against students with mental health disorders.
“For decades,” the lawsuit says, Yale has “treated unequally and failed to accommodate students with mental health disabilities, including by modifying policies, in violation of federal law.”
“Yale’s withdrawal policies and practices push students with mental health disabilities out of Yale, impose punitive consequences on students who have withdrawn, and place unreasonable burdens on students who, after a withdrawal, seek reinstatement.”
The lawsuit argues that the impact of Yale’s discriminatory policies is harshest on students with mental health disabilities from less privileged backgrounds, including students of color, students from poor families or rural areas, and international students.
Yale’s refusal to allow virtual attendance, part-time study, or extensions to the nine maximum semesters allowed to complete a degree are examples of the university’s failure to provide reasonable accommodations for students with mental health disabilities, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges that Yale engages in a practice of pressuring students to take voluntary leaves of absence or face involuntary removal when they experience significant mental illness symptoms. Steps to accommodate a student’s disability so that they may remain both enrolled and safe are not consistently explored, the lawsuit says.
The complaint describes instances where university officials visited students hospitalized for mental health crises to encourage them to withdraw voluntarily because it would “look bad” when they were compelled to do so.
In the case of one of the current student plaintiffs, the lawsuit says, the individual learned after leaving the hospital that she had already been involuntarily withdrawn, had 72 hours to leave campus, and could only return to her dorm room accompanied by a campus police officer. Because she was on an international student visa, the lawsuit says, the student had 15 days to leave the United States. The student experienced trauma as a result of Yale’s handling of her situation, the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, Yale regulations impose restrictions on students who withdraw, voluntarily or otherwise, that are not placed on students who take “leaves of absence” defined as student-initiated withdrawals that takes place no later than 15 days into a semester.
The lawsuit states that a student on withdrawal does not have the option to continue health insurance, is banned from campus, must relinquish their housing, may lose tuition, room, and board fees already paid, and must remain away for one or two semesters even if they can provide documentation from a medical provider recommending that they return earlier.
The lawsuit cites a 2018 report by The Ruderman Family Foundation that sharply criticized the withdrawal policies of all eight Ivy League schools—saying “the most elite institutions in our nation” are “exacerbating the college mental health crisis”—and put Yale at the bottom of the rankings with an F grade.
The lawsuit further alleges that Yale discriminates against students who seek to return to the university after a withdrawal though a daunting reinstatement process including judgement about whether their illness had been successfully treated.
The students must submit a form, a personal statement, and letters of support as if they were applying for Yale admission for the first time, and must persuade the university that they were “constructively occupied” during their withdrawal, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit cited examples of how students seeking reinstatement were required to go through interviews with a Reinstatement Committee and Director of Mental Health & Counseling; and to complete two classroom courses (not online courses) at an accredited four-year university, earning a grade of B or higher, during their withdrawal period from Yale.
Reinstated students must meet higher academic standards than their peers, risking a forced withdrawal if they fail in any courses for the two terms following their reinstatement, the lawsuit claims.
Alleged Violations of Federal Laws
The plaintiffs argue that Yale’s discriminatory policies and practices are in violation of four U.S. statutes; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Rehabilitation Act, Fair Housing Act, and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Yale violated Title III of the ADA by denying named plaintiffs and members of the proposed class, on the basis of disability, the opportunity to fully and equally enjoy, participate in, and benefit from Yale’s goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations to which individuals with disabilities are entitled, the lawsuit alleges.
The violation included maintaining and executing policies and practices that utilize criteria and methods of administration that have the effect of discriminating against students with mental health disabilities by tending to screen them out of—and make it more onerous for them to regain access to—campus services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations, on the basis of disability, the lawsuit says.
Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges, Yale failed to make reasonable modifications to ensure that affected students have equal access to the benefits of Yale’s goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations, and to provide such benefits in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.
The lawsuit alleges that as an institution receiving federal financial assistance, Yale violated Rehabilitation Act Section 504 regulations by denying the plaintiffs the benefits of Yale’s programs, services, and activities on the basis of disability; and by maintaining rules that screen out students with disabilities from maintaining their student status and access to campus resources, including housing.
Yale violated Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by denying affected students the benefits of its health programs and activities, including health insurance, on the basis of disability, the lawsuit alleges.
Finally, the lawsuit claims that Yale violated the Fair Housing Act by maintaining and implementing terms and conditions of housing that exclude and otherwise discriminate on the basis of disability; and by refusing to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, and services, when such accommodations may be necessary to ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunities to use and enjoy Yale’s residence halls.
The lawsuit says that Yale violated Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations under the Fair Housing Act by utilizing criteria, standards, and requirements that discriminate on the basis of disability, including requiring students with mental health disorders to submit personal statements and medical documentation in advance of being readmitted to residence halls.
Washington Post Report on Yale
The lawsuit came two weeks after a November 11 article on Yale’s withdrawal policy in The Washington Post cited interviews with more than 25 students who “described a university flush with money, yet beset by inadequate services and policies that often fail students in crisis.”
“Some described never hearing back from Yale counselors after seeking help,” the Post reported. “Others said they’ve learned to hide mental problems and suicidal thoughts to avoid triggering withdrawal policies that they believe are designed to protect Yale from lawsuits and damage to its reputation.”
The Post cited rights advocates who argue that “many schools have hustled those students off campus instead of treating them as people with disabilities who are entitled to special accommodations to remain.”
Yale officials responded harshly to the Post article, saying that student well-being is their primary focus, that virtually all students who request returns to campus after medical withdrawals are reinstated, that Yale continues to expand its mental health services amid a “surge in demand,” and that the Post article perpetuated a damaging stigma around taking mental health withdrawals.
“Addressing students’ mental health is a complex and nuanced endeavor, which this article ignored,” Paul Hoffman, Director of Mental Health & Counseling for Yale Health, and Pericles Lewis, Dean of Yale College, wrote in a letter to the newspaper published November 15. “The article could put more students at risk in its misguided focus on continuous enrollment rather than considering the value of taking time necessary for mental health care.”
On November 16, Yale President Peter Salovey said in a statement to Yale alumni and friends that the Post article “fails to acknowledge the support, processes, and policies in place or the positive outcomes associated with our work.”
While touting Yale’s concern for students and policies and services to support them, neither of the university’s statements acknowledged or responded to the criticism, frustration, anxiety, and anger broadly voiced by students in the Post story about policies that fail to support students and inadequate mental health services. The letter to the Post noted that confidentiality prevents Yale from commenting on specific student cases.
New Policy Changes at Yale
In a January 18 statement to students, Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis announced “policy changes and clarifications designed to make it easier to take time off if you ever need to and easier to return.” The changes are posted on the “Time Away and Return” page of the Yale website.
Without referencing the lawsuit or its plaintiffs, the statement said that the Dean’s Office began a review of withdrawal policies in early 2022 “listening to current and former students, and collaborating with colleagues across the university.”
The statement listed the following changes:
Time away from Yale for medical reasons will now be classified as a “medical leave of absence” rather than as a withdrawal.
Students can petition to be able to drop to as low as two courses while remaining in good academic standing, rather than taking a medical leave, if urgent medical needs arise during the term that require significant time for treatment.
Students going on medical leave with Yale Health Hospitalization/Specialty Care Coverage can transition to Yale Health Undergraduate Affiliate Coverage for one year. Financial support for the continuing insurance premiums will be available for students receiving the highest levels of financial aid.
Students going on medical leaves will receive individualized recommendations for how long they might expect to remain away due to their medical needs; with no minimum or maximum limits on the number of terms for medical leaves.
Students on medical leaves can continue working as student employees, to meet with advisers at the Office of Career Strategy, and to use library resources.
Students on medical leaves can have access to campus “as visitors and guests,” and may participate “in limited ways” in student organizations.
Students returning from medical leaves no longer need to go through an interview with the Reinstatement Committee chair, submit letters of reference, or meet a requirement of remaining “constructively occupied” during their time away.
Students returning from medical leaves are no longer required to pass every course in the first two terms after they return.
In a statement reported by The Washington Post on January 19, Elis for Rachael, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said it was in settlement negotiations with Yale pushing for more to be done. “We thank Yale for this first step,” the statement said. “But if Yale were to receive a grade for its work on mental health, it would be an incomplete at best.”
If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.
Cornell University has made “dozens of improvements” to support and improve student well-being in response to the recommendations of the 2020 Mental Health Review Final Report, according to the Executive Accountability Committee set up to guide strategies for implementing changes.
An EAC statement said that the changes implemented thus far promote social connectedness and belonging for all students, reduce clinical wait times for students seeking mental health services, provide resources to faculty to create health-promoting classrooms, and create clear expectations for graduate student success.
Cornell University campus
EAC updates for 2022 noted that Cornell adopted the Okanagan Charter, which calls for Institutions of Higher Education to embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates; and lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally.
“Work has been underway to position Cornell as a Health-Promoting Campus by using a systemic, sustainable way to address campus mental health and well-being,” the updates said.
The Mental Health Review, carried out by internal and external review teams in 2019-2020, made 60 recommendations comprehensively calling for improvements in mental health and medical services, academic life, student well-being, and mental health awareness and proactive support.
Current EAC members include Ryan Lombardi, vice president for Student and Campus Life; Kathryn Boor, dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Education; and Lisa Nishii, vice provost for Undergraduate Education.
Cornell established the position of a fulltime Health Leaves Coordinator within Cornell’s Student Disability Services (SDS). It said that the position is part of a new Health Leave of Absence (HLOA) process “that provides more support to students, consistency across colleges/schools/campuses, and assistance with navigating the HLOA process and university bureaucracy/resources.”
Under the new policy, coordination for HLOAs moves to a “new home” within SDS from Cornell’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The coordinator serves as a resource for students throughout the leave and return processes and is a central point of information and contact for campus partners. Students must meet with the coordinator and receive a holistic plan for returning to campus, and are also encouraged to discuss accommodations with SDS.
Suicide Prevention Training
All CAPS clinical staff participated in Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS) training during summer 2022 as its annual professional development. CAMS is an evidence-based therapeutic framework for suicide-specific assessment and treatment of a patient’s suicidal risk.
Clinical “Stepped-Care” Model
CAPS implemented a new stepped-care model of clinical services in Fall 2021 to provide rapid access within 48 hours to an initial brief Access Appointment that assesses students’ presenting concerns and relevant clinical factors and refers them to most appropriate service.
CAPS also began offering expanded clinical options, including workshops, additional group therapy programs, additional medication management options, single-session counseling, and telehealth services with Mantra Health.
Care & Crisis Services
The Dean of Students Office’s Care & Crisis Services Team, which identifies, assesses, and responds to concerns and/or disruptive behaviors by students who present a risk to the health or safety of the university or its members, implemented a new protocol including the utilization of a new student of concern referral form.
The university developed a comprehensive communication plan to regularly share updates with the campus community, utilizing Cornell’s mental health website and other key communication strategies.
Three work groups completed a year-long review of the Mental Health Review’s recommendations for advising, grading policies, and academic policies.
The Advising Working Group final report included these key action items: (a) develop department advising plans; (b) clarify advising roles and expectations of faculty, staff advisors, and peers; (c) strengthen professional development for staff and faculty advisors; (d) adopt best practices, accountability, and recognition for advising excellence; (e) develop consistent learning outcomes for well-being in advising seminars and programs; (f) collaborate with Institutional Research and Planning to assess advising needs of vulnerable student populations; (g) offer both in-person and virtual advising to optimize flexibility for students; and (h) provide students clear guidance for communicating with faculty when missing class due to a short illness.
The Grading Policies Working Group collected input from students, faculty, staff, and peer institutions to inform thoughtful deliberations about a wide range of academic stressors that may be particularly detrimental for student mental health as well as about new or improved forms of academic support for students. Topics explored by the Grading Policies Working Group include: (a) instituting a S/U-type grading system for the first semester of the first year; (b) implementing an early warning “flagging” system to identify struggling students based on early graded assessments; (c) developing more academic support courses, especially for introductory classes; (d) increasing the number of courses that offer the S/U grading option; (e) strongly discouraging norm-referenced grading; (f) elevating assessment and grading policies as fundamental to teaching excellence; (g) discouraging curving down and overly difficult tests that result in low numerical exam scores, and improving transparency about grading practices; and (h) eliminating the grade of A+ (which is used inconsistently, thereby creating inequities).
The Academic Policies Working Group collected input from students, faculty, staff, and peer institutions to inform thoughtful deliberations about a wide range of academic stressors that may be particularly detrimental for student mental health as well as about new or improved forms of academic support for students. This group deliberated the merits of: (a) limiting the number of credits allowed for first-semester first-year students to 16 (or slightly higher for degrees that require a higher number of credits); (b) reducing the overall number of evening prelims by restricting them to large courses; (c) developing a university policy for resolving exam conflicts; (d) regularizing faculty discussions about pedagogy and assessments; (e) providing safety escorts for students walking home after evening prelims; and (f) requiring information about key course elements—such as the nature of graded assignments—to be available to students prior to pre-enrollment. Most of the recommendations need to be further vetted by the faculty senate and other governance structures before they could be adopted. In addition, some would necessitate significant investments in technology solutions and time before they could be implemented.
Graduate Student Experience
The Graduate Advisor Feedback Task Force vetted its final report with the Graduate School, the Graduate School’s General Committee, the directors of Graduate Study, the vice provosts and provost and all college deans.
Key action items include the development of orientation materials, creation of a clearinghouse for resources, increasing faculty training around mentoring, anonymization of graduate student feedback on supervisor performance, and collecting graduate student feedback. Each graduate field will be asked to report annually on their progress in these areas.
Housing and Residential Life convened a task force to reevaluate the role of Resident Advisors.
Since this review, the RA position has shifted to focus more on intentional interactions with individual residents and resource referral on campus for challenges in and out of the classroom, and not as much programming and clear communication that they not take on the sole responsibly for the transition or well-being of any resident. RAs have also been trained on secondary trauma and how to better care for themselves when students do disclose difficult situations, and how to immediately refer that resident to resources and take of themselves in caring roles. The 2022-23 remuneration for the RA position has also changed to address concerns of how the RA compensation was negatively affecting the RA’s financial aid package.
The Skorton Center for Health Initiatives is taking over management of Cornell’s Victim Advocacy Program, as well as advising roles for the Empathy Assistance and Referral Service, a peer mentoring program known as EARS, and Cornell Minds Matter, a student mental health club.
Cornell Health, “in consultation with legal counsel, reconfigured” the drop-in service that offers informal, private consultation with a mental health counselor. Let’s Talk will be considered an outreach program, “eschewing clinical documentation” and falling under the federal education privacy law rather than the federal medical privacy statute.
Cornell leaders on October 26 signed the Okanagan Charter, which calls on Institutions of Higher Education to embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates, and lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally.
According to the Charter, its purpose is to 1) guide and inspire action by providing a framework that reflects the latest concepts, processes and principles; generate dialogue and research that expands local, regional, national and international networks, and accelerates action on, off and between campuses; and 3) mobilize international, cross-sector action for the integration of health in all policies and practices.
The Charter does not focus directly on mental health or use the term in its text, defining health “holistically, reflecting physical, mental and social well-being.”
Ryan Lombardi, vice president, Student and Campus Life, said the Charter’s principles “will help provide structure for the next phase of Cornell’s Student Mental Health Review, a collaborative process that has paved the way for a shared commitment to the betterment of mental health inside and outside of the classroom.”
The Charter was created and signed by education leaders at the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna, Canada. Representatives from the World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization and UNESCO joined in the pledge.
Serving as Cornell’s executive sponsors of the Okanagan Charter are Martha E. Pollock, Cornell president; Christine Lovely, vice president and chief Human Resources officer; Lisa Nishii, vice provost for Undergraduate Education; Kathryn Boor, dean of the Graduate School and vice provost of Graduate Education; and Ryan Lombardi, vice president, Student and Campus Life.
According to the Cornell Chronicle, two collaborating advisory groups for campus well-being—one focused on students, the other on faculty and staff—will employ multidisciplinary approaches to explore and implement changes and sustain momentum over time.
“The Okanagan Charter is an important way for Cornell to both reaffirm and formalize our commitment to supporting the health of our students, faculty and staff,” Pollack said. “It will support us in seeking new ways of incorporating health-promoting behaviors into our campus culture, and in identifying and sharing best practices to support community well-being.”
The university abolished the Executive Accountability Committee, which consisted of four senior administrators as “executive sponsors,” and three “change leads” covering the academic community, campus community, and clinical services, and replaced it with a 25-member Student Well-Being Council. The council provides oversight for campus mental health and well-being broadly, including recommendations from the Mental Health Review report, as well as “new priorities” as a health-promoting campus within the Okanagan Charter.
The council will use a new evaluation plan to measure programs, policies, and campus culture. The university also created a campus-wide Community of Practice to implement key recommendations and “identify evidence-informed strategies to implement Health-Promoting Campus strategies.”
The Community of Practice will collect and analyze data, implement key strategies, provide best practices, and “identify ways to regularly engage students, staff, and faculty to provide feedback, stay involved, and support health and well-being on our campus” through the work of six Community of Practice committees.
The university will create a “Well-Being Vision for Cornell” to guide its health-promoting work.
Student Well-Being Council Members:
Julie Edwards (chair), director of Skorton Center for Health Initiatives
Lisa Nishii (executive sponsor), vice provost for Undergraduate Education
Kathryn Boor (executive sponsor), dean of the Graduate School and vice provost of Graduate Education
Ryan Lombardi (executive sponsor), vice president, Student and Campus Life
Eve DeRosa, dean of Faculty
Marla Love, dean of students, Student and Campus Life
Abby Priehs, director, Housing and Residential Life
Dave Honan, assistant vice president, Public Safety
Michelle Artibee, director, Workforce Wellbeing
Jai Sweet, dean of students, College of Veterinary Medicine
Linda Croll Howell, senior director, Employee Experience
Markeisha Miner, dean of students, Law School
Amanda Shaw, associate dean of students, SC Johnson College of Business
Kim Anderson, assistant director, Sustainability
Amy Gaulke, executive director, Student and Campus Life Communications
Amy Foster, deputy director, Athletics
Kristina Im (student), Student Assembly, Health and Wellness Committee
Ngoc Truong (student), Student Assembly, Health and Wellness Committee
Andrew Juan (student), University Assembly
Kate Carter-Cram (student), Graduate and Professional Student Assembly
Laura Santacrose, assistant director, Skorton Center for Health Initiatives
Catherine Thrasher-Carroll, program director, Mental Health Promotion, Skorton Center for Health Initiatives
Abi Dubovi, mental health program specialist, Skorton Center for Health Initiatives
Jennifer Austin, director of Communications, Cornell Health
Bonnie Comella, associate vice provost for Undergraduate Education
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