Mental Health at Chatham University

     What do cafeterias and mental health services have in common? They are both often found on college campuses, and most times neither are very good. Recently, an article was published on PublicSource by Atiya Irvin-Mitchell, a recent Chatham graduate, titled, “Students can face disciplinary action for self-injury at Chatham University. Three students share their stories.” As a fellow Chatham student, I found the stories to be captivating and truthful to the lore of Chatham’s campus (read it here).

    It is not uncommon knowledge that Chatham University has not handled the mental health of their students with the utmost care. Though most universities approach self-harm as being an issue of mental health, Chatham treats self-injury as a willful act of defiance and has used the intent of injury to one’s self or the expression of those thoughts as grounds for removal from the institution. Through the stories detailed in Atiya’s article, one can follow different former students’ attempts to seek help on Chatham’s campus who were let down by a system into which they put their trust.

     According to the most recent copy of Chatham’s honor code, “any action that is harmful to oneself including significant/severe self-injurious behavior, suicide attempts and/or threats will result in the immediate removal of the student from the college setting and potential expulsion. Mental health conditions, the influence of drugs or the use of alcohol will not diminish or excuse a violation of the student code of conduct.” This type of code sets up a system that is meant to fail students who suffer from mental illness that goes beyond just generalized depression or anxiety. In addition to that, it creates an environment where students are afraid to even ask for help, for fear of being kicked out of the school they chose to dedicate their time to.

Her Campus Chatham reached out to students for their reactions to Atiya’s article, and we were contacted by a sophomore who would prefer to remain nameless. She wrote as follows:

 

“In the last year I attended Chatham University, I heard rumors of how administration treats/has treated individuals suffering from mental illness. I never believed them, and would try to persuade my friends that were struggling with suicidal ideation/depression/anxiety/disordered eating to seek help on campus, but every time they refused. I was disgustingly optimistic in my decision in regards to the school I chose. Chatham was not my first choice, but I tried to make the best of it. I confidently believed the University I chose would not discriminate against those struggling with mental illness.

The actions of Chatham University, in the past, present and future, are repulsive and deplorable. The administration and President of Chatham claim that our school has is inclusive and respectful of differences, identity, and ability. Their actions speak otherwise. I will be reconsidering where I remained for the rest of my academic career because of their decisions.

Sincerely,

A Sophomore at Chatham University.”

 

     Since the circulation of Atiya’s article, the president of Chatham University, Dr. David Finegold, sent out a university wide email that addressed the article. He explains that Chatham chose not to respond to questions regarding the various students’ experiences due to privacy concerns. He also states that the article, “contains information that has been taken out-of-context and mischaracterizes the environment at Chatham.”. He then stresses to students that the Counseling Services departments and response team are “here to support and help you, not to discipline you.”.  To conclude the email, Dr. Finegold states that he has pushed for the creation of “task force to undertake a review of our current policy language and procedures to identify if there are areas where we can improve.”

     I find many faults with this email, but to start the immediate attempt to discredit the stories of past students is a red flag. It follows in the long standing tradition of administration telling the narrative of student life on campus, rather than the students themselves. Similarly, I find it hard to take solace in the creation of a committee to investigate these issues. The creation of a committee to address these concerns eventually is not the same as directly addressing these concerns now. This is not a solution, it is far from it. Until we have a definitive change in the honor code, there will be no solace for students on campus suffering from mental illness.