This week the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) sponsored a series of Suicide Prevention Training sessions for staff and faculty at the University. The training sessions, in response to last semester’s unfortunate student suicides, are one of the first steps the University has taken this semester toward suicide prevention and awareness. These steps, however, pale in comparison to the steps that have been taken thus far to prevent sexual assault and promote student safety on Grounds. Although these are very different causes, the University needs to devote more time and effort to a cause that was responsible for taking the lives of three University students last semester.
Two major developments are taking place at the University right now. The first, though not directly caused by the University, involves the banning of sororities from attending Boy’s Bid Night. This contested decision is a direct response to the Rolling Stone article, and the end goal, presumably, is to prevent sexual assault. Although the specific merits of this policy — implemented by the international presidents of National Panhellenic Conference sororities — are being disputed, it is a significant measure to combat sexual assault and safety concerns.
Another major initiative funded by the University is the opening of a new police substation across from the Corner, as well as plans to establish a permanent substation this summer, located in the building once occupied by Freeman-Victorius frame shop. Moreover, the University will implement an “ambassadors” program to provide escorts to members of the University community at night and increase the security presence in the area. Once again, this is a significant measure that was implemented in response to both the Hannah Graham case and the Rolling Stone article.
Though these suicide prevention training sessions are also in response to the tragedies of last semester, they are not as comprehensive nor as serious as the developments I have outlined above. The Department of Student Health website emphasizes “research shows that when any community experiences suicide, a likelihood of additional suicides exists in that community in the future.” This means that now, more than ever, significant measures must be taken toward spreading awareness. Andrea Iglesias, assistant director of outreach and liaison programming for CAPS, said in a Cavalier Daily article that the training is open to everyone in the University community, yet the department of student health website only mentions that it is for faculty and staff.
In order to effectively combat suicide and mental illness, the University as well as CAPS must reach out to the whole University community, not just faculty and staff. This could be in the form of suicide prevention sessions for students or other awareness events and dialogue. Either way, it is crucial that the entirety of our community understand the warning signs of suicide and know possible ways to find help either for themselves or others.
I am not implying CAPS is not an effective outlet for student help; in fact, there is a multitude of resources available on the CAPS website. The training sessions are a step in the right direction for the cause of suicide prevention. Additionally, CAPS is hosting free mental wellness screenings February 19th. Rather, I wish to contrast the actions the University has taken towards combatting sexual assault with those it has taken towards combating suicide and depression. The urgency for action, especially after the events of last semester, does not appear to be present. Such action may not have to be as large-scale as a police substation or a ban on sorority activities, but there should be a push for awareness nevertheless.
Last October, my fellow columnist Lauren Horne brought up a similar argument. She focused on the disparity between the University’s response to a student suicide and a disappearance. Yet, her article centered more on the public attention that each case was receiving rather than awareness and prevention efforts themselves. This disparity was likely due to the privacy each family wished to have in their time of mourning. But at the same time, Horne stresses the need for “open discussion about mental illness, suicide, or how to handle grief.” To this end, my argument highlights the need for more significant action this semester, through open discussion and awareness as well as teaching students the warning signs and how to respond. These efforts cannot keep taking a backseat to the issues of sexual assault and student safety; rather, they must be elevated to a level of equal or near-equal importance.
Jared Fogel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.