“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
The words of my childhood hero, Albus Dumbledore, resonate with me in the 20 days before I walk into a future with the choices I have made as a student these past three years at USC.
Since last September, I have made the choice to advocate for mental health on campus while seeking and receiving psychological care at the Student Counseling Center at the Engemann Health Center. I have put aside self, peer, family, co-worker and faculty perceptions of my abilities in sharing my struggles with anorexia, depression and anxiety from ages 13 to 20 through music, poetry and talks with RSG and USG leadership. I made the choice to take leadership of USC’s Active Minds chapter, one of the only two student organizations programming for mental health awareness and resources.
My experiences have informed me that there is not yet sustained mental health education and care to ensure and enhance the well-being of the 44,000 Trojans on the University Park Campus. In light of a discriminatory national climate on immigration and racial and gender discrimination, there must be greater efforts to create inclusivity of access and informed communication regarding mental health within LGBT and multi-ethnic student populations — two communities defining USC’s longstanding national rankings as a top-25 LGBT-inclusive campus and No. 15 in student body diversity. More so, sustained collaboration between Engemann, cultural centers under Student Affairs and the USC administration is essential to ensuring student academic and professional success.
Sergio Gonzalez, a graduate intern at the LGBT Resource Center, felt that the resources at Engemann didn’t take his identity into account.
“Last spring, I was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety,” Gonzalez said. “I specifically asked for a queer counselor at the health center, but there was only one who worked full-time who could not help me. It was very heteronormative. They outsourced me to Downtown for hours of testing. There was a backup of months on waitlists near campus until I finally got care near West Hollywood.”
Established in 2005 as a division of Student Affairs, the LGBT Resource Center promotes mental health education and resources for staff and faculty through ally trainings under the Safe Zone Program.
While the advocacy of seven undergraduate and four graduate student organizations and the doubling of the Resource Center’s physical space at the Student Union have contributed to the community’s visibility, Matthew Carrera, a first year master’s student at the USC Rossier school of Education, said that the general decentralization of the USC administration’s initiatives for student wellbeing and the lack of ongoing and mandatory ally training for University officials impedes sustainable access to care within the community.
“It’s challenging to be able to partner with faculty in the various departments from which our students come from,” said Rosalind Conerly, director of the Center for black Cultural and Student Affairs. “It’s hard to track specific student mental health needs since many come to our space for many different reasons.”
This February, Conerly organized one of CBCSA’s first mental health-related event featuring the documentary “Outside of the House” and a Q&A with the director and Engemann pyschotherapist Bruce Wallis. At USC, the experiences and stigma of mental illness and related issues in the black community and other multicultural communities expand across a large range of ethnicities and nationalities.
Matt Weisbly is a sophomore and an information specialist at Asian Pacific American Student Services, which provides confidential, 15-20 minute consultations with counseling staff in its office every Monday from 1-3 p.m. He said that the Asian Pacific American experience stifles help-seeking.
“There was limited emotional expression growing up as half-Asian,” Weisbly said.
“I feel more prepared to help with experiences of helping friends here. I’m glad that USC is making helping less of a burden and life experience.”
During the summer of his freshman year, Weisbly participated in training programs facilitated by the Student Counseling Services to become an APASS mentor for freshman and transfer students. He learned specifically about resources for victims of sexual assault and points of contact for help-seeking within the APA community at USC.
The lack of inclusive and 24/7 emergency services and difficult student transitions to off-campus care is indicative of mental health crises across campuses nationwide. USC must first support student initiatives to seek and sustain care through administrative measures to require staff and faculty trainings on mental health and protect student health information. Second, USC must promote student mental health in gender and multiethnic diversity by tailoring existing counseling services and programming through student surveys through cultural centers.
Prioritizing our mental health is a choice we make for developing and strengthening our academic and professional capabilities and the overall safety and success of the Trojan Family.