The University’s inconsistent support is detrimental to students
Editors Note: Jaiden Wolfman contributed research.
After the traumatic accident that the Brandeis community experienced, the response of and support from the administration at Brandeis has been less-than ideal. Despite a clear and desperate need for more mental health support at Brandeis, multiple students have reported long waiting lists, frequent counselor resignations, and generally frustrating experiences with the Brandeis Counseling Center. Jevon Bunting ’25 told the Justice, “I called the BCC last week to try to get an assessment during their hours, [Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 2 pm] and the call bounced … No ringer, no answering machine, just rejected.” This report was interesting to hear, especially after the email released from Ron Liebowitz on the 20th said, “I want to reiterate the resources that are available for us to draw upon at this difficult time. Students can contact the Brandeis Counseling Center 24-7 at 781-736-3730.” Student frustrations with the lack of support from various administrators have been an issue long before this incident. The following is an anecdote from Nile Marsh ’24 on his experiences with the mental health care support at Brandeis:
“When I experienced an extremely upsetting event in September, I told four of my five teachers (one of my classes has homework that is so scheduled and accessible that I ended up needing no extensions) and asked for extensions and support. Three of them responded with kindness, with one telling me explicitly ‘The mental health of my students is more important to me than grades,’ one extending every deadline I had by weeks, and one writing me a compassionate email sharing their empathy for my situation and offering to report me to the school to receive extra support. The fourth professor I told, who I had asked for an extension on a twelve hundred-word essay due two days later on topics I had already missed due to having COVID, simply responded to my email with ‘I hope your friend feels better.
You can have a one-day extension on the essay.’ I dropped that class and accepted my other teacher’s offer to report me. Fearful that Brandeis admin would make me feel worse (when I arrived on campus freshman year, they scheduled a meeting with me to make sure I was over the difficulties I’d written about in my application essay; the meeting ended up making me feel like a liability they wanted to erase), I ignored the Dean’s office representative that tried to set up a meeting with me for a few weeks before finally agreeing to see them. At the meeting, the representative advised me to ‘say no to your friends and go to the library’ to catch up on the classes I’d received extensions in. When I mentioned that one professor had offered so little support that I had dropped the class, the representative exclaimed in dismay and asked if I still had the proper course load for the semester.
I left the meeting in tears, feeling worse than I had before I utilized the school’s resources.” Since this recent tragedy, the consequences of academic pressure on students’ mental health and the lack of necessary resources, support, and understanding have only become more glaringly evident. On Monday, Nov. 28, after the incident, students were greeted in the Shapiro Campus Center by a variety of tables hosting various craft wellness activities, and also were given access to therapy dogs for the majority of the week. Although these resources are supportive, the immense need that students have to speak with professional mental health specialists at this time needs to be prioritized. The University needs to increase the number of counselors available to students. Oftentimes, with general community-allocated resources, such as “stress busting events,” like the therapy dogs, the tonal nature is harder to gauge. Therefore, it is necessary for them to come in conjunction with the opportunity for students to speak to empathetic professionals one-on-one. In discussions of tragedy, curated phrases aren’t enough.
This was particularly clear at the first table in the SCC where students were supplied with a variety of stickers with phrases like, “Everything happens for a reason,” “Don’t let it break your heart,” and “I am happy.” Synthetic phrases such as this, or emails declaring Brandeis’s support without this being demonstrated by the University’s actions, aren’t what students need during this time. It is essential that the University prioritize allocating funds to ensure that there is enough genuine professional support for the student body.
Adding more mental health counselors to support students managing the pressures of academia after this traumatic incident, as well as generally through the very emotionally complicated time that is emerging adulthood, is vital. Academic Services released an email to the student body that noted that students “may request an incomplete” from their instructors or be granted excused absences from final exams. Additionally, the Pass/Fail option was reopened. Options such as these are great strides towards allowing students to prioritize their mental health over productivity, but academic leniency should always be available, as students, and educators, are individuals themselves with personal lives that can interfere with their mental health and the ability to meet deadlines. Nile Marsh ’24 stated:
“I appreciate the individual kindness shown to me by some of my professors. I wish there was an official mechanism for students to request extensions or extra support due to personal circumstances or mental health issues. Getting accommodations is both a lot of work and inaccessible to students that can’t pursue therapy or get a diagnosis for a variety of reasons. I would rather some students abuse the mechanism to get extra time for their assignments (and if they’re using it, they obviously need it) than have everyone forced to fall on their professor’s mood and personal bias whenever they need help.”
From personal experience, within some departments, such as the English department, there is a leniency granted to students, and a general culture of the encouragement of intellectual conversation and engagement over hard deadlines and perfect exam scores. However, this culture doesn’t carry out across all departments, and oftentimes students feel pressure for perfection over taking care of themselves. The world of academia, especially as it exists within capitalist structures that promote worker productivity over an individual’s well-being, makes it difficult to navigate advocating for personal well-being at any level.
Although the larger world and workforce aren’t free of deadlines and expectations, this doesn’t mean that those with authority at the educational level shouldn’t make an effort to curate understanding and support for students. Educators themselves have their own lives, as well as deadlines, and assignments to grade, and should be treated with the same level of empathy and understanding to the extent that this is possible. The nature of learning inherently includes making mistakes and adjusting from them — especially within scientific fields where experimentation is often a conglomerate of trial and error — and asking further questions. As this is the nature of these fields, and education as a whole, it is essential to approach productivity with the same awareness and attempts to balance human error, with a compassionate consciousness.