RIT's New Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force
by Tyler English | published Dec. 21st, 2018
On Dec. 5, 2018, RIT sent out an email announcing the formation of a University Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-Being. The announcement came from President Munson, Provost Ellen Granberg and Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Sandra Johnson.
The email detailed the purpose of the task force and described the plan of action for the group and their goals.
What is the Task Force?
“It’s a task force for student mental health," Johnson explained. "The idea underscores our approach to health and wellness as a holistic process.”
RIT has had a hard semester with the suicide of a student that shook the campus. Given the impact of this event , Munson, Granberg and Johnson felt that a task force was a wise choice to investigate the systems of RIT and the concerns of students.
Johnson explained that after listening to the concerns from the student body, they knew they had to look at the issue as a whole — focusing on mental and physical health.
“A task force is a small group of people looking at a complex issue, and then they make consequential recommendations for the larger population,” Johnson said.
Who is on the Force?
The task force is sponsored by Munson, Granberg and Johnson. Together the three have started the interview process for individuals interested in joining the task force.
The task force will be co-chaired by Dr. Andrew Herbert, the associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts, and Dr. Jodi Boita, the executive director of Assessment, Technology and Communications in the Division of Student Affairs. Together, they are charged with moving the group forward once it is formed. The small group will be expected to go out and bring in others to the cause.
The team has also asked numerous governance groups on campus to nominate student representatives. The groups asked to elect members are Staff Council, Academic Senate, Diversity and Inclusion, NTID and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Student Government will also designate an undergraduate student and a graduate student to be on the force. The chair of SG's Student Affairs Committee, second year Computing Security major Ian Stroszeck, will also be on the task force as he had previous involvement according to Johnson.
“In this one [task force] in particular we have a heavy number of students that we want to be represented on this,” Johnson said.
With the well-being of students being the main focus of the force, student involvement and participation is crucial to getting accurate data and producing recommendations that will benefit the RIT student body.
What are their Goals?
Once the task force is formed in January and the members have met, they will create a plan of how to move forward.
“[The task force] will scale and scan what we do and look at other best practices by consulting with other organizations such as the Gen Foundation,” Johnson said.
By looking at what programs and services RIT currently has in place, the task force will make recommendations on behalf of the student body to explain how things can be made better or areas where there are potential gaps.
“What we want to look at are three pillars of a holistic wellness program,” Johnson said. “What are we doing in prevention ... then what do we do [for] early intervention ... the last one is how do you manage crises.”
In terms of prevention, Johnson spoke about the educational efforts around mental health and what RIT has in terms of early alerts, such as the Tiger Concern Report. Early intervention involves identifying an issue and addressing it before it develops into a crisis.
“RIT wants to spend the least amount of time in crisis, but it's about knowing the systems we have in place to handle them,” Johnson said in regard to RIT's crisis management.
The task force will officially start their work in January and will release an interim report in April. This report will detail their findings up to that point and outline where the force is heading. Then, at the end of the spring semester, the task force will finalize their report and pitch their recommendations.
By hosting listening sessions and collaborating with student-run organizations, the task force will be gathering input from students and faculty.
“They [task force members] need to be out there talking with people,” Johnson said.
The task force will have to divide and conquer; while some members host listening sessions, others will reach out to programs and organizations.
Other Improvements and Future Action
Throughout the semester, RIT administration has stated that they are working on improving the health services at RIT. In addition to improvements to the Student Health Center and the Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) office, this task force will serve to progress RIT's mental health goals.
“Nothing is stopping in terms of already-established improvements,” Johnson said.
Instead, the task force is going to complement existing programs. It will analyze the current processes and gather the voices and opinions of students, moving forward with those concerns in mind.
“I think the task force is a good addition to what they promised already, I just hope it leads to actual action once their work is finished,” said Joshua Burger, a third year Computer Science major. “I’ve been here for three years. I’ve heard RIT say things like this before — I am hoping that they stick with it this time.”
After the task force releases its recommendations, administration will then be tasked with thoughtfully and strategically choosing what they move forward with, since not everything that works at other universities will work at RIT.
“The message we want to get out through all of this is that we [RIT] are committed to creating this environment where students feel they are supported,” Johnson said.
The creation of the student-oriented and student-led task force is a step towards true student involvement with the health and wellness services at RIT. It will hopefully open opportunities for students to finally have an active role in shaping the mental health services of their institution.