Content Warning: This article contains mentions of student death.
A mental health working group formed in a collaboration between the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), the Office of Campus Life, and University Health Services (UHS) published a final report regarding campus mental health resources on Sept. 19.
Recommendations in the report include the implementation of 24/7 on-demand Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) counseling, funding for transportation to off-campus mental health services, the establishment of a “system for well-being checks that does not rely entirely on the Department of Public Safety,” and funding “to expand the number and diversity of CPS counselors.”
The working group was formed out of a Senate-sponsored referendum from this past spring’s election cycle that called on the University to conduct a review of mental health resources available to students and to allocate resources for filling gaps identified by that review. The progress made by the working group is emblematic of a USG administration that has emphasized from its start a goal to make student mental health a priority.
An introductory letter to the report — signed by USG Mental Health Resources Task Force co-chairs Stephen Daniels ’24 and Anna Sivaraj ’23, USG vice president Hannah Kapoor ’23, and USG president Mayu Takeuchi ’23 — acknowledged that mental health concerns have been especially relevant in recent years coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The University was resuming a range of fully in-person activities, but we as students continued to navigate various pandemic impacts, including grief from personal and community losses and extended disruptions to academic, social, and co-curricular opportunities,” the letter read.
The bulk of the report is structured as a series of recommendations — 32 in total within four areas of interest, including only seven recommendations that the University has not yet agreed to follow through on.
Each recommendation details an action or series of actions that have been delegated to a specific administrator or group, and each is labeled with one of four possible statuses: “under review,” meaning that it is currently being reviewed by “relevant stakeholders” at the University; “in progress,” meaning that the recommendation was accepted and “work towards completion has begun”; “completed”; or “completed and ongoing.”
The proposals are organized into four sections: “Transition to Princeton and Navigating Resources,” “Residential Colleges,” “Outreach Counselors and Counselors at CPS, Off-Campus Mental Health Care,” and “Telehealth.”
The section covering transitioning to Princeton emphasizes strategies to improve awareness around mental health resources among first-year students. Items that are currently in progress include establishing a UHS student health advisory board by Spring 2023 and improving visibility of counselor photos on the CPS website.
Within the residential colleges on campus, the University is working towards “build[ing] out a robust crisis response system that does not rely entirely on Public Safety (recognizing that interacting with fully outfitted officers can exacerbate situations).”
This would include utilization of the new Residential Life Coordinator (RLC) position, as well as establishing communications from UHS to ensure that residential college staff “are also aware of resources and support related to subclinical needs — such as those available through” Peer Health Advisers (PHAs); Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources, and Education (SHARE); the Office of Religious Life (ORL); and others. Both of these items are set to be completed by Spring 2023.
A number of recommendations surrounding residential college resources are currently under review. One suggests that the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students, along with University Services, consider establishing “a process for DSLs (Directors of Student Life) to reference students’ dining hall meal swipe utilization levels when assessing concerns about student wellbeing.”
To generate recommendations related to TigerWell outreach counselors, other CPS counselors, and off-campus care, the working group reviewed the CPS Spring 2022 Satisfaction Survey and student feedback from USG channels, and they also surveyed students who had been referred to off-campus providers in the past two years.
“I personally am proud to say that almost every recommendation is a result of feedback that one of the working group members heard from other students about their experience at Princeton,” Daniels wrote in a message to The Daily Princetonian.
The report identified that while CPS clients generally described being satisfied with the services provided, there are currently two significant concerns: firstly, that students experience long wait times when seeking CPS services, and secondly, that there is “inadequate support for students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and other students of underrepresented backgrounds and identities.”
They found that the average wait time for initial CPS consultation was 5.22 days, with the average wait between initial consultation and intake being 14.75 days. Some individual counselors also had longer waits than others.
The report detailed that the Vice President for Campus Life has committed to working with the Office of Advancement to “[pursue] fundraising efforts for the continuation of TigerWell, including the Outreach Counselor program, beyond [fiscal year] 2024 as a priority,” with the goal of institutionalizing the Outreach Counselor program since its grant is set to expire. The deadline for this item is set for Summer 2023.
By Spring 2023, Director of CPS Dr. Calvin Chin has been tasked with adding more staff to the Outreach Counselor program, with the possibility of new specialized counselors “dedicated towards students with disabilities or chronic pain/illness.”
Another item in progress aims to “identify funding to support transportation to off-campus care, including the possibility of purchasing vouchers to Lyft, or possibly creating a Well Ride program here at Princeton University.”
The report states that while students demonstrated an interest in telehealth options in addition to in-person services, students also raised concerns regarding “the lack of private, reservable spaces on campus to take telehealth appointments.” In direct response to this concern, the CPS director has compiled and continues to maintain a list of private rooms on campus available to use for telehealth appointments. Additionally, all appointment reminder emails now include links to available telehealth spaces on campus.
Several other initiatives relating to telehealth are currently in progress. By Spring 2023, the CPS director intends to change messaging to “lower the bar for access” to after-hours counseling lines and expand availability of drop-in hours counseling. Furthermore, by Fall 2023, 24/7 on-demand counseling services will be established.
Proposals to develop a mental health screening tool for students to complete at the start of every school year, encourage participation in mental health trainings during Wintersession, and explore opportunities to expand the number of soundproof spaces on campus are all in review.
The report also covered two primary additional topics. In conversations about academics, the group discussed advising, more flexibility in grading and pass/D/fail policies, breaks in the academic calendar, and increased support and resources for students on leaves of absence.
Additionally, the group discussed support for the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community “especially after the tragic loss of two students at the end of last semester.” The group formed an API Mental Health Working Group with administrators and alumni with plans to collaborate with students and meet over the course of the year to develop a list of recommendations. Additionally, a partnership between CPS and the Asian American Student Association (AASA) will develop programming to “decrease the stigma around accessing care that has historically been prevalent in the API community.”
The working group framed the report with their belief that “these efforts demonstrate the importance of students being directly in conversation with University decision-makers” and highlighted their hope that the group would serve as a “model for meaningful change across campus.”
“I hope this report is the start of a larger conversation about the leadership role that Princeton can play in combating the current global mental health crisis,” Daniels wrote in a message to the ‘Prince.’ The group intends to provide quarterly updates on the report’s recommendations.
Alison Araten is a news staff writer for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @alisonaraten on Instagram.
Annie Rupertus is a sophomore from Philadelphia and a News Staff Writer who covers USG for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at email@example.com or @annierupertus on Instagram and Twitter.