Mental Health at Denison University


I didn’t know Tianyue Li or Sean Bonner. As a freshman at Denison University, there’s a lot of people that I don’t know, but that doesn’t make the news of their deaths any easier. In the fall with Sean and again in the spring with Tianyue, the student body received an email saying that these students had been found deceased. In the wake of both deaths, the university cancelled classes and opened up Swasey Chapel as a place for students to be together and pay their respects, and in the following days they made additional resources, such as extra counseling, access to Swasey Chapel and clergy, mindfulness workshops, and exercise classes available to students. In addition, many faculty and staff members continued to make themselves available throughout the days leading up to spring break.


Because of these two deaths, students have recently taken to social media to voice their concerns with mental health support at Denison University. They’ve been very loud and very critical of Denison University as an institution, quick to point fingers at the administration for, in their eyes, failing to provide adequate support to their students. While seeking a scapegoat is a natural response to this kind of tragedy, these students fail to acknowledge the fact that, by blaming the administration, they blame the people who had to work with police on the scene of these events, the people who had to contact these students’ parents and make arrangements for them to come to campus to collect their things, and the people who listened when the campus community cried out for a break and decided to cancel classes through the end of the week, extending spring break.


In addition to criticizing the university, these students also responded to a handful of students who spoke out, saying that their experiences at Denison University have helped to soothe or even overcome their mental health issues. An accusatory meme was spread saying that these people sharing their experiences were “undermining… peers’ activism” and seeking “to end a critical conversation.” Again, these students fail to acknowledge the fact that a conversation, by definition, is “a talk… between two or more people in which news and ideas are exchanged,” and that their desire to initiate a conversation will never be met until they engage with other people’s ideas in a civil and respectful way. You simply cannot preach kindness and love while, at the same time, shaming others for speaking their truth.


I agree that Denison University exists to serve its students, in more ways than one, and I also agree that change is necessary. Some of the things that I’ve been seeing students call for is a universally more relaxed absence policy, a campus-wide homework limit, and more forms of therapy. However, I think we all know that the faculty, staff, and administrators at Denison University care deeply about their students; this is not an institution that needs to be bullied or threatened into submission. I don’t see any reason to shout on social media; it would be far more effective to take these matters directly to the school. This is a place with open arms, open minds, and, most importantly at this time, open ears. I have full faith that anyone at Denison University would be more than willing to sit down with as many concerned students as it took to put in place a mental health program that is fully functional and works for the students.

In my opinion, now is not the time for activism. It’s a time for inward reflection and civil engagement with one another and with our school. How can we, as a community, be better to each other? How can we, as a community, stand up and ask for what we want? I am in full agreement with the fact that a conversation needs to be started, but rather than passive aggressively posting on social media, including the university in the conversation is going to be more efficient and beneficial. They can’t serve the students if the students don’t tell them what they want, and social media is not the place to be using these deaths as a springboard for activism.