After the BC Ignites event on mental health last week, I left O’Neill Plaza feeling a wide array of very real emotions, but the most prevalent was that I was unsettled. The turn-out for the event was incredible, and the strength of the students who spoke so passionately about their struggles with mental health was both humbling and heartfelt. I felt admiration for those who spoke, for those who organized the event, and remain incredibly grateful for the conversation this event has singlehandedly created on our campus. However, I was disappointed that in a crowd of hundreds, I found only one faculty member in attendance. The only member of the Boston College administration in O’Neill Plaza that night was Thomas McGuinness, director of University Counseling Services (UCS), and the booked, expert speaker of the evening. Somehow, I had assumed there would be more “adult,” “representative,” or “expert” faces in the crowd.
What I would like to emphasize is how impressed I was with those who contributed, whether it was those who spoke on their own issues with mental health, or those who worked tirelessly to create a space where those who had experienced such struggles would feel comfortable sharing their stories in order to reduce the tangible fog of stigma that surrounds mental health at BC. UGBC and other student groups have made these issues something that can no longer be ignored, and I am thankful and inspired by those who were brave enough to share a bit of themselves so that these tough conversations can become catalysts for realized change.
I do not personally suffer from issues of mental health. However, I am far too familiar with the toll depression, self-harm, and suicide takes on families, friendships, and relationships. I have seen enough loss of life, I have known enough beautiful humans to lose this frustrating and stigmatized battle, that I left O’Neill Plaza last week wanting to walk straight up to a BC faculty member and ask, “How many students are you willing to lose?”
Matt Hugo, A&S ’16, stated in his speech that “College campuses can be incubators of change.” He noted that if we choose silence, we only allow the stigma around mental health issues to permeate into every aspect of student life. The students have, finally, stepped up. They have put countless hours, an enormous amount of care and thought, and have put part of themselves and their lives on the line in order to make sure that we can start talking about mental health on this campus.
But where are the teachers? Where are the faculty advisors, the Jesuits, the administrators? Where are the people who are supposed to take our passions, our demand for change, and help us turn our needs into a reality for every student at BC?
I consider myself realistic in that I am not expecting us to triple the size of our counseling services overnight or overthrow the system that is in place. Thankfully, the intelligent, bright, passionate members of UGBC and other student groups on this campus have started the Be Conscious campaign, and continue to offer creative outlets for those struggling with mental health issues to find a support system outside of UCS, including a developing peer counseling program. But what is stopping us from hiring a 24/7 certified counselor to be there for emergencies? For a 24/7 hotline that doesn’t direct us to Samaritans, but rather directs my friends in need to someone here, at BC, who understands the distinct pressures and triggers that live and fester and grow on our own campus?
At the end of my freshman year, I watched those nearest to me feel absolute devastation, loss, and confusion when we lost a beloved BC sophomore to suicide. The conversation should have started then, and I lost faith these last three years that it would ever be ignited once more. The students did not settle for this, because we will not settle for any more loss of life on this campus. We will not settle for issues of mental health to be shoved under the rug of a campus so keen on preaching a philosophy of service that so clearly, in this case, fails to be practiced by the administration when the safety of our fellow students is of great concern.
Please get out from behind your desk. Do not sit there in your cubicle, in your classroom, in your office in Stokes, and simply commend the hard work, dedication, and bravery of your students. Get up. Get out of your desk chair, your classroom, your office, and talk to the students and help them create real, visible, tangible change. Refuse to be an administration that disappoints such an active, compassionate student body that has shown growing concern about the students you are choosing to ignore. A stigma can be reduced by the conversations such courageous and caring students have started, but can only be eliminated when a true community at BC has been formed. We have taken incredible strides, but we need the administration to meet us there.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Staff