Student Council passed SR20-06, “A Resolution in Support of Mental Wellness and Resiliency Courses In Engagements,” Tuesday evening by a vote of 21 yays and 1 abstention. This bill is a modified version of SR20-03 that addresses the concerns that were raised in last week’s Student Council general body meeting concerning the replacement of the New College Curriculum’s Empirical Engagement requirement with a mental wellness requirement.
SR20-03 — a resolution that advocates for the inclusion of a formal mental wellness engagement within the New College Curriculum — was introduced last week by Student Council Representative Ryan Alcorn, a second-year College student and co-sponsor of the resolution. The resolution raised concerns among members of the Student Council regarding how the mental wellness requirement would be implemented within the curriculum.
The New College Curriculum requires students to take six Disciplines, various Literacies and four, two-credit Engagement course requirements. The categories for these Engagements include the Engaging Aesthetics, Empirical and Scientific Engagement, Ethical Engagement and Engaging Differences.
The Engagement courses encourage first-year students to work in a seminar-style structure, fostering group conversation about reworld questions. Student Council aims to establish a Mental Wellness and Resiliency requirement in hopes of exposing incoming students to the skillsets and information necessary to help them overcome any mental health challenges they may face.
The original resolution called for the replacement of the Empirical and Scientific Engagement with a mental wellness course. However, in response to the feedback from the Student Council members, Alcorn and his team of co-sponsors worked with Student Council representatives and other stakeholders to adjust the resolution, recommending instead that a mental wellness requirement be offered within the Disciplines.
The New College Curriculum requires all students to complete three credits in each of the seven Disciplines. The amended resolution advocates that Mental Health and Resiliency would serve as an additional, three-credit requirement.
Prior to the vote on SR20-06, Cooper Shears, a first-year College student and Student Council Representative, spoke out about the changes that were made to the resolution. Shears had raised concerns about the resolution during the past meeting.
“There was some trouble about the mental health resolution that we tried to pass last week, so Ryan reached out to me,” Shears said. “I think he made a lot of good changes, so I just want to say that a lot of concerns from last week were addressed.”
Grace Leffler, a co-sponsor of the resolution and third-year College student, also spoke out in support of the new and altered resolution.
“A requirement for mental wellness and resilience [class] again, would … create a more inclusive environment for those struggling with difficult mental health challenges,” Leffler said. “Voting in favor of the resolution in current form would send a strong message to the U.Va. administration that not only are students voicing support behind this initiative, but also that it has followed in-depth conversations about why it is necessary and how it functions.”
The University provides mental health resources including Counseling and Psychological Services, which provides emergency and crisis services, clinical services and drop-in consultations.
However, some students believe that this does not go far enough. In September 2019, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI on Campus at UVA, released a petition advocating for an improvement in mental health resources on-Grounds and an increase in mental health educational programs at the University.
Third-year College student Siana Monet, expressed similar sentiments about the lack of mental health education available at the University. Monet was not able to attend the meeting but provided public comment through a written statement that was read aloud by Leffler.
“In an increasingly pre-professional and stressful academic atmosphere, I feel that mental health is one of the least discussed and most important challenges which students face,” Monet wrote. “U.Va. strives to ensure that students are prepared to meet the real world, but often neglects to facilitate the development of skills beyond the academic sphere, which could assist in this endeavor.”
Monet expressed support for the inclusion of mental wellness and resilience courses in the New College Curriculum by relaying the personal benefits she found in taking a Nursing Interprofessional course in Spring 2019 — a class that focused on mindfulness and wellness.
“Classes like the one I had the opportunity to take go beyond being merely useful to students,” Monet wrote. “They empower us to be more whole, healthy, successful and compassionate humans.”
With the resolution passed, Alcorn says that the next step will be talking with the New College Curriculum directors and negotiating with them on how to implement the mental wellness requirement.
“The great thing is that a lot of these courses already exist, but we want to make sure that they're formalized and that first-year students have access to them, because first-years tend to be the most at risk for these kinds of situations,” Alcorn said.
Alcorn also credits the University chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness for their integral role in working on this resolution.
“It's been NAMI and the Second Year Council Wellness Committee that really put this together,” Alcorn said. “It was a great effort, [...] this is really something that NAMI has worked on for a long time.”