The university plans to launch a general Student Health/Wellness Advisory Board in the fall semester to replace the Mental Health Advisory Board, which shut down in January, causing some student mental health advocates to raise concerns about the future of mental health policy on campus.
The new advisory board will be responsible for handling mental health issues, in addition to physical health and other concerns related to overall student wellness.
The composition of the board has not yet been decided.
The Mental Health Advisory Board held its final meeting in late January to provide suggestions for the new board and its future members. The board was chartered in fall 2015 by Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson to explore and address policy for mental health issues on campus.
Assistant Vice President for Student Health Vincent WinklerPrins, who will lead the new board, said the MHAB was always meant to be a temporary committee addressing key mental health concerns. The new board will exist indefinitely, he said, and will be able to address the matter of student wellness more holistically.
“It was never the intent to have the MHAB exist indefinitely,” WinklerPrins wrote in an email to The Hoya. “My focus is on student health and wellness comprehensively. Siloed discussions of physiologic health versus mental health or wellness are sometimes useful but I believe that a forum for more comprehensive thinking will be beneficial.”
Olson said the MHAB effectively completed its goals over its two year charter.
“The Mental Health Advisory Board has done great work, and helped set the context for important improvements in CAPS and in our work with mental health issues overall,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I am grateful for all their work.”
The MHAB advised Emeritus Director of the University of Delaware Counseling Center Dr. John Bishop in his report on Georgetown’s medical leave of absence process, which called for changes including increasing communication between students on an medical leave of absence and the university and increasing training for university staff.
Former student members of the MHAB, which included eight students and eight administrators, have expressed support for the change, although some raised concerns about the future of campus mental health policy with no advisory board dedicated to the issue.
Former MHAB co-chair Ben Johnson (NHS ’17) said the new board could decrease the attention and resources dedicated to mental health concerns by the administration.
“Something that mental health has always struggled with is being mentioned in the same sentence with physical health and being taken with the same seriousness,” Johnson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I only hope that the new board will not decrease resources and attention being paid to mental health on campus as it gets mixed in with the many other topics that fall under student health.”
Project Lighthouse Executive Director Will Emery (COL ’19), who formerly co-chaired the MHAB, said the shuttering of the board will leave a gap in mental health advocacy to be filled by students, particularly the Georgetown University Student Association.
“In the absence of the Mental Health Advisory Board, it’s really the responsibility of the Student Association to really pick up the slack. It’s important that we in the Student Association recognize that there will now be more of a challenge advocating for mental health,” Emery said. “And we will rise to that challenge to ensure that students with disabilities continue to be represented within administrative conversations and within administrative advocacy.”
These challenges notwithstanding, Emery said he supports the transition to a more general approach to student health as a validation of the MHAB’s success.
“While it’s disappointing that we no longer have an administrative board focused on mental health, I think that really it’s a point of reflection in that we accomplished our goals,” Emery said. “There is of course still a lot of work to be done, but now the work that needs to be done needs to be done on a holistic level.”
GUSA Mental Health Policy Team Chair Sylvia Levy (SFS ’18) praised the success of the MHAB, though she said there is still work to be done.
“There is still progress to be made on issues of student wellness and mental health, particularly around cultural competency and staff diversity,” Levy wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The Mental Health Advisory Board was successful in forming critical relationships between students, administrators, and staff, which will be invaluable as we continue to work to change policies, and improve campus resource awareness and access.”
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