Why Active Minds has been a long time coming
Chantelle Leswell ’20J | Opinions Staff Writer
Last week, I attended a movie night ran by a new student organization, Active Minds. We watched the equally poignant and comedic “Lady Bird”; there were only four of us in the room, but I was so grateful that we were spending time together. Active Minds is a nonprofit that works to “utilize the student voice to change the conversation about mental health on college campuses.” According to the Smith Social Network, the Active Minds chapter at Smith is a mental health education, advocacy and awareness group. Learning of its existence brought tears to my eyes. Tears because we need it, tears because Smith has already failed me multiple times in this area, but most importantly, tears because something like this should’ve been implemented much, much sooner.
In 2017, a petition was organized to increase funding for mental health services on campus, and almost half of Smith’s student population signed it. The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that Kris Evans, the director of Counseling Services, responded, stating that Smith already employs twice the number of mental health practitioners than other comparable institutions. This tells me that we need not only funding for the center, but a serious infrastructure overhaul.
The “Required Medical Leave” section of Smith’s handbook reads: “[Smith may] require a student to withdraw during the semester when the student … requires a level of care from the college community which exceeds the resources and staffing that the college can reasonably be expected to provide for the student’s well-being.” While this is not wholly unreasonable — Smith, after all, can’t be expected to watch our every move — it’s hard to feel like the school is doing enough to create an environment that promotes mental well-being. They’re trying more and more every year, for which I’m incredibly grateful, but up until fairly recently, the conversation around mental health on campus was next-to-nil.
Another recent development that has real power for change is the Innovation Challenge, which offers grants to support learning, teaching and research around themes pertaining to inclusion, diversity and equity. On a campus that is entrenched in a history of hostility towards people of color, this seems like a great move to elevate voices and champion for change. It’s been moving to see how many of this year’s grant recipients are centering their initiatives around mental wellness, although it is a marked reminder that there is a profound need for these types of spaces on campus. The sheer demand for counseling appointments among Smith students — some being forced to wait up to a month for an appointment — not only demonstrates an exceptional demand for individualized therapy, but also a shift on the institutional level that underscores the importance of collectivity and care for one another. Implementations like Active Minds and the innovation grants have the power to cause change on campus. With the steady incorporation of positive mental health initiatives, Smith can become an institution that truly supports its students’ well-being.