Supporting College Students on Mental Health Leaves of Absence

The Sophie Fund released a proposal August 21 aimed at supporting students taking leaves of absence for mental health reasons from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

loa-photo

The proposal calls for an Ithaca community-based program featuring a “leave of absence coach,” a community outreach worker providing practical guidance and moral support for students in transition. It also proposes a website hosting useful information about college leave policies, strategies for fruitful time off from school, local housing options, and employment opportunities.

Scott MacLeod, a donor advisor of The Sophie Fund at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, said he discovered wide agreement about the need for a program among college administrators, community healthcare services, student organizations, and individual students facing mental health challenges.

“Young people facing mental health issues often suddenly find themselves on leave from school without the campus support networks they relied on as enrolled students,” said MacLeod. “This can become a period of uncertainty and even isolation for many students. With growing numbers of students taking leaves to focus on their mental health issues, we think it is vital that the community find ways to provide support. The goal of the students as well as their institutions should be to chart positive trajectories for their return to school and success in life. We hope administrators at Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College will support the idea.”

MacLeod said The Sophie Fund distributed the proposal to key stakeholders in the community, and hopes it will generate serious discussion about development and funding and lead to the implementation of an effective program by early next year. The proposal estimates as many as 400 students a year may be taking leaves from area colleges.

The proposal seeks to ensure that students on leaves have access to information on the full range of challenges they will confront during their leave period—about housing, jobs, educational opportunities, volunteer opportunities, healthcare services, etc. It seeks to provide substitutes for the campus support systems that become unavailable to students during their leaves.

According to the proposal, today’s generation of college students is experiencing a mental health crisis in line with the increasing rates of mental health disorders in the general population. College counseling centers are reporting rising numbers of students seeking support for serious depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental illnesses.

“Leaves of absence entail an often unexpected, abrupt, and painful loss of a structured environment that includes a support network of friends, professors, university staff, roommates and other fellow students, campus organizations, cultural and athletic facilities, and school medical providers,” the proposal says. “Testimonies from students on mental health leaves of absence relate how it can be a confidence-crushing experience that induces shame and guilt.”

The Sophie Fund was established in April 2016 in memory of Sophie Hack MacLeod, a Cornell University art student who succumbed to her battle with depression in Ithaca on March 26, 2016. The focus for the fund’s work is supporting mental health initiatives aiding young people.

Click here to download a copy of the proposal.

For more information about The Sophie Fund, go to www.thesophiefund.org

TC3’s New President: Orinthia T. Montague

“Anything I can do to have students reach their goals, whatever the goals may be, that’s what really drives me.” —Orinthia T. Montague

The State University of New York Board of Trustees announced May 3 that it approved the appointment of Orinthia T. Montague to become the fourth president of Tompkins Cortland Community College.

Montague, who replaces long-serving TC3 President Carl Haynes, has served for the past seven years, most recently as vice president of student affairs and chief diversity officer, at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota.

According to TC3’s press announcement, Montague has led Normandale’s efforts and partnerships with public and private secondary schools, as well as community and business collaborations; a partnership with Bloomington Public School District and Hennepin County provides direct higher educational opportunities to close the gap for underrepresented populations with a focus on homeless students, foster children, and teen parents.

Addressing Montague during a campus forum, Haynes said: “I think what’s most impressive about your credentials and what you bring to our college and to our campus is your long history of experience with student success, student life, and the commitment you have made to that in many different parts of your career. I’m truly pleased to be turning this office… No, I am downright excited about turning this office over to you as our next president.”

Montague, speaking at TC3, also emphasized her commitment to student success:

“I’m a first generation student, from the country of Jamaica. I’m an immigrant. I’ve had so many people concerned about my student success, and the little things and the big things that it takes for me to achieve and move forward with my goals. So I’m passionate about doing that for others.

“I want people to experience what I experienced with this support, within my community, external to my community, intentional, and unintentional support, structured, unstructured. Anything I can do to have students reach their goals, whatever the goals may be, that’s what really drives me.”

TC3 Board of Trustees Chairperson Elizabeth Burns praised Montague’s selection. “Dr. Montague has served in a number of important roles in institutions of higher learning, and her passion for working towards success of students of various backgrounds is a good match for this College and for the challenge of moving us forward,” she said.

Montague received a bachelor of arts degree in interpersonal communication from Truman State University; a master of arts in counseling from Lindenwood University; and a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

She follows in the footsteps of three other presidents since TC3 was established: Hushang Bahar (1968–1986); Eduardo Marti (1986–1994); and Haynes (1994–2017).

Haynes has spent 48 years at TC3, joining as a member of the business faculty in 1969. He has overseen tremendous growth in his 23 years as president, including doubled enrollment, construction of a new student center, athletics facilities, and several residence halls, and creation of a solar farm. Recently TC3 opened Coltivare, an Ithaca restaurant in support of its farm-to-bistro initiative that includes degree programs in culinary arts and sustainable farming and food systems.