Role of Campus Cultures Missing From Debate on Minority Mental Health

Dec 2, 2015 – Retrieved from the Chronicle of Higher Education Website.

To the Editor:

Your recent article “How Mental-Health Care Entered the Debate Over Racial Inequality” (The Chronicle, November 19) missed a fundamental aspect of the issue of mental health among minority student populations. While helpfully focusing on the call for more campus mental-health professionals that personally and intimately could better understand the identities and unique experiences of minority students, it missed the opportunity to demand greater change in how campus cultures and structures are designed to serve the mental health, rather than illness, of all students.

Manifestations of poor mental health may be found within minority student populations, but it is the campus culture itself that is not flourishing. It is the culture that is the source of students feeling like “imposters” (a label Kevin Cokley, professor of counseling psychology and black studies at the University of Texas at Austin, uses in the article) or outsiders.

What is needed is an intentional reflective practice among the privileged, the majority, within the larger campus culture itself. How can campus cultures more broadly be crafted such that no student feels like an ill to be treated, like an outsider, but instead like the asset they are, representing the embodiment of the true mission of higher education — a diverse wealth of cultural knowledge and experience that enhances the campus climate and tapestry? Those most likely to be in charge of crafting the campus culture (administrators, faculty, and staff) must be more thoughtful about precisely how to shift and nudge their campus practice and priorities through a more inclusive lens toward a truer realization of their mission.

Further, it is time for the media and major publications like The Chronicle to take seriously their role in helping foster this change, as well. The Chronicle’swell- intentioned resource, “Today’s Anguished Students and How to Help Them” is yet another example of framing students with mental-health concerns as a problem to be treated, rather than looking inward and asking of higher education what it can do to promote the flourishing of all students.

Jennifer O’Brien
Project Manager, Bringing Theory to Practice Project

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