Student leaders, Georgetown administrators and mental health experts gathered on Tuesday in Riggs Library to discuss the Safety Net, a program designed to enhance Georgetown’s ability to improve student health and safety.

The Safety Net includes psychiatric counseling, university chaplains, GUSA and the FRIENDS Initiative and serves as a forum for these different groups to discuss issues of mental health and trade information on how best to help Georgetown students going through difficult times.

The partnership of these groups was the driving force behind the creation of be.georgetown.edu, an Internet resource that acts as a center for all of the Safety Net’s resources.

“It may be depression or substance abuse, eating disorders or sexually transmitted diseases, family break-ups or sexual assault. The Safety Net reflects Georgetown’s commitment to help students deal with real pain and ultimately emerge stronger,” Daniel Porterfield, vice president for public affairs and strategic development and a part of the FRIENDS initiative, said.

While many groups on the Georgetown campus try to improve the health of the student body, the purpose of the Safety Net is to get these groups to work together. “The advantage is that it brings together students and staff, so that they know each other by face and name,” Porterfield said.

The Safety Net, and mental health in general, has gained the close attention of University President John J. DeGioia. Athletic Director Joe Lang said that he considers DeGioia “one of the first supporters of the Safety Net,” and that he “supported the program back when he was Dean [of Student Affairs].”

Tami Weerasingha, chair of the student association’s Health, Safety and Justice Advisory Committee and one of the primary organizers of the event, said, “the Safety Net [DeGioia] supported in the ’80s is still alive and well today.”

In his remarks, DeGioia stressed the importance of strong mental health programs in the university. “In the context of each of our lives, we find ourselves in moments of transition,” DeGioia said. “The responsibility of community is to aid each member of the community in making these transitions. I believe you can assess a community by the extent to which it copes with people in need.”

Other speakers stressed the strengthening of community that the Safety Net provided. “What makes this place different is the ethos of caring that pervades it. I trust that if something happens to me or I’m struggling or I just need some guidance, there will be people here to catch me and put me back on my feet,” Kate Hard (COL ’04) said.

GUSA Vice President Steve de Man commented on the work involved in getting all of these people together. “This is rare for a student event,” de Man said. “Getting the administration’s help here is key.” De Man said he saw the Safety Net as, “an attempt to get students and administrators, who basically have the same interests, together.”

Weerasingha saw the purpose of this event as a way to give all the individual groups at Georgetown, “the opportunity to mutually acknowledge the importance of health and safety issues to the university community . [and] to learn about the range of efforts currently underway to improve the heath and safety of Georgetown.”

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