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Mental Health and Well-being Update

DEPARTMENT(S): 
November 3, 2021

This message was sent to the WPI community.

A hearty thank you to everyone who engaged in Tuesday’s Be Well Together Day, and to the Mental Health & Well-Being Task Force for organizing it. The day was an important step on the long road to creating a community more centered on health and wellness, and we know we have much more work to do, especially given the additional loss our community suffered this week. To that end, I’m writing to:

  • Share plans for a student-organized gathering Thursday afternoon on the Quad and in the Odeum to reflect and gather input
  • Invite you to drop in to the Campus Center Thursday or Friday for grief support counseling
  • Share other near-term steps the university has taken in the wake of recent student deaths
  • Update you on our Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force

November 4 Student Gathering on the Quad: Reflect, March, and Share Together

I applaud the small group of students who are organizing a gathering and march scheduled for Thursday afternoon, November 4, from 4 to 6 pm. I met with organizers Wednesday to help advance our shared goal of harnessing our students’ passion and energy through constructive dialogue. And so, we will meet on the Quad at 4 PM Thursday afternoon, hear briefly from student organizers, and then march together over the bridge and to the Odeum. 

Once there, students will sit in groups to address a series of questions to hear concerns and gather suggestions so we can move ideas forward. The university’s actions are effective only when students know about and take advantage of the resources and programs we develop. To that end, student action and engagement is critical as we work together to create a healthier path forward. I truly believe that thoughtful and effective ideas will come of these and future dialogues.

Things Are Happening: Immediate Actions

Here are some of the many concrete steps we are now taking to support student health and well-being:

  • First, and most immediately, we will host drop-in grief support counselors to help those affected by our recent losses. Any member of our community can stop by the Rubin Campus Center main lobby all afternoon Thursday and/or Friday (November 4 and 5).
  • We have hired one and are recruiting an additional full-time counselor in the Student Development and Counseling Center staff as well as additional per diem staffing as needed to support our students. Currently, wait times for an intake appointment are 1–3 days at the most.
  • We are finalizing a contract for a 24/7 phone line to provide direct after-hours phone access to crisis counselors. We expect to launch this by C-Term/Spring Semester. Currently, our WPI Campus Police officers thoughtfully manage after-hours calls; they will remain available for medical and other emergencies.
  • On Thursday, the Morgan Center for Teaching and Learning will sponsor a workshop for faculty on ways to incorporate wellness strategies into their course curriculum. Information is here.
  • A special faculty meeting held September 30 provided significant insight into important points of stress felt by both faculty and students in classrooms and labs; these insights will be incorporated into short- and long-term academic resources.
  • We are actively recruiting a director and other staff for the new Center for Well-Being at WPI, to launch this year. Positions are posted and hiring is in process.
  • We have launched a new resources web page compiling links to the numerous offices and programs available to students and employees.
  • We are conducting an independent review of our approach to student mental health and well-being as part of our constant and continuing effort to ensure we are following best practices. We will share recommendations from the review with the community and use them to guide additional actions.
  • We have expanded training programs for students, faculty, and staff to provide the tools needed to support one another. Thus far, we have hosted a number of Recognizing and Responding to Student Distress (RRSD) training sessions as well as Student Support Network (SSN) sessions for faculty, staff, and students, including two open RRSD sessions provided during Be Well Together Day.

Mental Health and Well-being Task Force: Working Hard and Making Progress

As I announced in late September, the new Mental Health and Well-being Task Force, led by Jean King, Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, and Matt Barry, MA, LMHC, of the Student Development and Counseling Center, is composed of more than 30 faculty, students, and staff who have been charged with generating recommendations for specific near-term and longer-term steps to help WPI advance our goal of creating a campus that centers on mental health and well-being.

Since then, this Task Force and its four subcommittees have been meeting multiple times per week. In addition to organizing Tuesday’s Be Well Together Day (the first in a series of regular events focused on mental health and well-being), they are now delivering a series of near-term recommendations to a group of senior campus leaders; as you will recall, their recommendations for longer-term steps were due to me by December 15. Given recent events, I have accelerated this timeline to be completed by Thanksgiving. These recommendations will be reviewed for their feasibility and impact, and will be prioritized for rapid implementation to support our students, faculty, and staff. I will share more, shortly, about specific actions steps being taken as a result of the fast and thoughtful work of this dedicated group.

The Task Force and subcommittees are also actively gathering data to inform other actions related to the academic calendar and term breaks; tutoring and academic advising resources; course work loads; ways to use technology to better support students; and ways to mitigate the pressures of a fast-paced campus culture. These measures are a solid start and reflect the caring creativity available here on our campus, and they demonstrate our passion and commitment to supporting the health and well-being of our community.

So that community needs can best be heard, the Task Force will launch a survey in the next week or so asking for your input. I hope you will take the time to share your thoughts.

Our shared commitment to supporting mental health and well-being will require long-term collaboration of all partners across our community, and I am grateful for your active participation, and your daily kindness to each other.

Thank you,

Laurie