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Faculty must do more to accommodate mental health

By Thresher Editorial Board     11/2/22 12:00am

Rice faculty must include a mental health statement in their syllabi going forward after the faculty senate adopted part of a Student Association recommendation Sept. 28. Specifically, professors must include a list of mental health resources on campus compiled by the Wellbeing and Counseling Center and encourage students to use them as necessary. We applaud the faculty senate’s actions as a step in the right direction, but it is truly the bare minimum that they could have done to address students’ mental health. 

The original SA resolution included three recommendations, two of which were adopted by the faculty senate. The one that wasn’t adopted called for establishing “academic adjustments for academic-related mental health concerns, such as extensions and attendance.” Minutes from the faculty senate debate on the resolution describe concerns over how to standardize accommodations for mental health issues and professors’ inability to differentiate between “normal stress and something else.” 

We wholeheartedly agree with these concerns, and we know that resolving them will require much more discussion among faculty, students and the Wellbeing and Counseling Center about how professors should approach mental health accommodations. But the existence of concerns cannot and should not dissuade faculty from beginning to offer accommodations now. 

Professors are constantly experimenting with their syllabi: They’ll try teaching a new book or assigning a new project in the hopes that it will improve learning outcomes for students. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least they have tried something. We do not see why introducing meaningful mental health accommodations is any different. 

Faculty at Rice have the immense power to create an open and inclusive environment for discussing academic-related mental health with students. Just being transparent on the first day of classes about the academic accommodations they offer — whatever they may be — can reduce the stigma around students asking for accommodations. We are sure that requiring professors to speak about the existence of their mental health accommodations in some form, even just indicating a willingness to discuss them on an individual basis, will do wonders for student appreciation. 

Anyone who has read the Thresher over the past few years knows that many students on this campus struggle with mental health issues to varying degrees throughout their time at Rice. The faculty senate clearly views this as an issue to be addressed — they adopted a resolution trying to do just that. But their resolution is just words on a page that falls short of any real action. 

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