Following the passing of WVU student Ben Pravecek on April 16, students have spoken out about the lack of mental health support on campus.
Earlier this week, the WVU Student Government Association held a virtual Mental Health Town Hall meeting for students to share their comments, questions and concerns relating to the mental health resources available on campus.
The meeting lasted two hours. In the first half, students met to share their stories and experiences with on-campus mental health resources, and for the second half, administrators spoke to students about the availability of on-campus mental health resources.
Students voiced frustration with the Carruth Center’s services in the past and said this spring the center has not met the mental health needs of students during a semester without breaks and with many online classes.
Sophomore Steven Chettleburgh created a petition that collected more than 1,700 signatures urging WVU to better equip mental health resources such as the Carruth Center to meet growing student needs.
“The mission of the West Virginia University Carruth Center is to be ‘Dedicated to fostering a supportive learning environment for all members of the WVU community,’” The petition stated. “While it has helped many students, the increased need for mental health services — especially one-on-one counseling — has left the resource with no option other than to turn away students, put them on a waitlist, or direct them to outside services they cannot afford. The counselors are also unable to help students with certain complex situations.”
The petition asks for West Virginia University to reevaluate its approach to student mental health and improve the services it has at the Carruth Center, which are meant to combat mental health crises.
A public letter was also put out by Chettleburgh, the student behind the Change.org petition, compiled with a list of problems students have had with the mental health resources offered on campus, mostly directed toward the Carruth Center
During the first half of the meeting, Emma Adams read through the testimonies students had sent in through the petition. Over 30 students shared their experiences in the public letter.
"I was told that virtual counseling was not offered to out-of-state students, if we were not on campus,” wrote one student. “I was trying to get help over quarantine but was waitlisted for about three months and because I went home for quarantine, the counseling ‘wasn’t covered.’ Something must change.”
Junior accounting student Chase Mayo shared his own experience with the Carruth Center during Monday’s virtual town hall. After seeking individual counseling and making an appointment for a consultation, Mayo said he was asked by a staff member if he felt his situation was severely urgent.
Mayo was told that the Carruth Center was at capacity and would be until the following semester. He was given a list of community providers instead.
“It is upsetting that when the University promises services to all students, the Carruth Center did not have the funding or capacity to meet the promises made to all students when coming onto campus,” Mayo said.
Carruth Center Director T. Anne Hawkins explained that the Carruth Center offers a short-term counseling model.
“There is not a specific number of counseling appointments that are available to students,” She said. “Every case is different and unique. Students, on average this academic year, have been seen for approximately five appointments. However, when clinically appropriate, we do provide open-ended care management and group counseling.”
The Carruth Center is open, but Hawkins said due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is only seeing psychological and psychiatric emergencies.
In an email, she said these types of emergencies are broadly defined as “when someone experiences a mental health or psychological emergency as the stressors we experience overwhelm our capacity to cope. Some examples might include active suicidal or homicidal thoughts with the intent to act, sexual assault or the experience of recent losses.”
The center is currently preparing for the launch of Healthy Minds University this fall. According to Hawkins, it is a collaborative approach to mental healthcare that will work in partnership with the Carruth Center and other support services, and the clinic will be dedicated to providing a full spectrum of mental health care to WVU students referred there.
On Monday, students also expressed the need for classes to be pass/fail for the spring semester. Evan Widders, the WVU associate provost for undergraduate education, said the University cannot make those accommodations due to the fact that it would create disadvantages for students in varying majors and may decrease the value of one’s diploma.
However, the Provost's Office is extending the deadline for students to withdraw from coursework up through May 3. Administrators say this option provides students more flexibility in managing their own success in their coursework and academic progression.
Overall, the open discussion of mental health on campus has developed with greater transparency and conversation amongst both administrators and students.
Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Meshea Poore addressed the disconnect felt between students and administrators.
“I do want to acknowledge that we recognize that some of you are hurting. I want you to know that I hear you, and we will continue to listen to what you are saying,” Poore said. “This will not be the last conversation. We are trying to hear and help. We are here because we do care.”