Student delegates from the University hosted the 3rd Annual Ivy League Mental Health Conference in the Friend Center from Mar. 3 through Mar. 4.
The conference brings students from across the Ivy League together for a weekend-long conversation on increasing awareness and fighting the stigmas of mental health. One of the conference’s major goals was to prepare its student delegates to have meaningful conversations with their respective student bodies and administrations about the positive changes that can be made.
“There are two goals: one is to communicate between Ivies about existing problems and the existing state of mental health care at different universities, and talking about new policies and coordinating new policies between Universities,” said Isaac Treves ’18, one of the delegates.
Undergraduate Student Government President Rachel Yee ’19 directed the conference. Yee emphasized that, while the conference did feature discussion about policy and mental health, the primary goal was action.
“The goal was, pretty simply, to create a baseline standard for mental health at all of the Ivy Leagues,” Yee said.
According to Yee and Chitra Parikh ’21, one of the program’s co-directors, this year the delegation from each school was asked to draft a policy proposal beforehand to present and share with the rest of the conference. Attendees discussed these policy measures in large presentations and small-group discussions.
“Our goal now this year is to facilitate an open and honest discussion about the mental health policies on campus and how they affect the atmosphere that students live, study, and breathe in,” Parikh said. “We’re hoping that by using the tools and insights they learn from the conference, delegates feel empowered to bring this to the administrations at their respective institutions.”
Due to inclement weather, the conference got off to a delayed start, forcing the opening ceremony to be moved from Friday evening to Saturday morning. The ceremony included a variety of performing arts student groups on campus.
“We thought that was a really exciting curation of things that had to do with mental health and also showcase the talent on campus,” said Susan Liu ’19, another of the conference’s co-directors.
Afterwards, Sarah Sakha ’18 facilitated a panel with two USG representatives and an RCA for a policy discussion with many of the students from the other schools. Sakha said that the primary takeaways from the panel included a desire for online scheduling for counseling appointments, something the University already has implemented and students from other Ivies wished to implement as well.
Sakha is the former editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonian.
“We’re actually ahead of the curve there,” Sakha said.
According to Sakha, another main point from the panel was a desire to reduce wait times for appointments. Sakha mentioned that Harvard recently reduced their wait time for counseling appointments to a maximum of 48 business hours.
“We are supposedly at a one to two week period, but it’s generally two to three weeks,” said Sakha. “Wait time is always an issue.”
Other delegates echoed the sentiments shared by the panels: one of the primary policy changes many Ivies wished to implement was to make sure their respective student bodies were able to receive counseling as quickly as possible.
“I think the most common problem [in our schools] has to do with ... the student to counselor ratio as well as wait time for an appointment,” said Treves. “That was something that varied between institutions, but most everyone was emphasizing that it could be better.”
Along with discussions and panels about policy, the conference also hosted a number of workshops on specific ways to implement change and to support fellow students who struggle with mental health on a day-to-day basis. One of these workshops was taught by Zhan Okuda-Lim ’15, who focused on how mental health culture changed during his time at Princeton.
“I really enjoyed the workshop by Zhan because he went into the struggle that is getting policy done in any Ivy,” said Treves. “He gave us some perspective as to what it takes to get an administration to enact change.”
Another workshop, hosted by Counseling and Psychological Services Director Calvin Chin, focused on bystander intervention and Princeton Distress Awareness Response Training.
The Ivy League Mental Health Conference began two years ago on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus. A year later it was hosted at Brown, before moving to the University this year.
“It’s evolved over the past two years, first at Brown University and hopefully now here, from a conversation about de-stigmatization to policy and action,” said Liu. “The main goal of Brown’s conference was that transition between cultural change and environmental change on the part of the students working with the administration.”
Yee, who was the University’s head delegate at Brown last year, agreed with Liu’s assessment that the conference has changed to focus on action.
“Last year, the goal was to create institutional change. We had a lot of good discussions,” said Yee. “But there was no follow up, no mechanisms put in place to make sure that the work would actually happen, and that was our goal. I think we can do that better.”
Coming away from the conference, Yee said that she felt optimistic about plans going forward. She and others are forming an Ivy League Mental Health Coalition and an action plan to go along with it, which they plan on publishing as soon as they have obtained their desired data concerning mental health.
“I have a lot of cautious optimism,” said Yee. “I think it’s really hard to get students to do anything, even on campus in student groups, so having that across all the Ivy Leagues is difficult, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic, so I’m hopeful.”
Yee, Parikh, and other delegates emphasized the importance of putting discussion into action. Yee also expressed her gratitude towards the delegates and all who made the conference possible, saying, “it was a team effort.”
“I think sometimes mental health can be a buzzword; there’s a lot of talk around it, and sometimes I think the frustrating part is when there’s no action behind it,” said Yee. “It’s not a one person job, and it’s going to be difficult.”
Parikh added, “At the heart of policy change is collaboration.”
This is the first year the University has hosted the conference.