More than 1,600 members of the Columbia community have signed a petition demanding increased access to mental health services. Editor’s Warning: Article contains mentions of suicide and student death.

Over the past week, a petition demanding “increased access to mental health care services for all students, faculty, and staff” has garnered wide support within the Columbia community. At the time of publication of this article, the petition has been signed by over 1,600 members of the Columbia community, including undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, alumni, and family members.

Addressed to President Bollinger, Provost Boyce, Dean Sorett, Dean Chang, and Dean Rosen-Metsch, the petition highlights concerns about the status of mental health care at the University, especially following the passing of Columbia student McLeod Buckham-White.

“Mental health is an important issue for every student, and access to quality health care is essential for all community members,” the petition reads. “Unfortunately, to be a Columbia student means to experience the shortfalls of our mental health resources.” 

Following the passing of Buckham-White, Tess Fallon (SEAS ’23) authored the petition with help from her friend Alyssa. 

Fallon and Alyssa say they do not want to downplay the important support and care provided by CPS employees or the positive experiences many students have within the system. They simply argue that the current number of service providers is incapable of caring for the entire student body. Expanding the CPS staff is likewise the petition’s first demand.

The petition argues that “the current resources at Columbia Psychological Services are grossly inadequate and insufficient.” Further, “With its current structure, it is impossible for CPS to meet the demands of our community.”

The petition also states that CPS employs only 52 service providers for a University population of over 30,000 people. According to the CPS staff directory, there are 34 psychologists, eight psychiatrists, five social workers, and five postdoctoral fellows working in the system.

The petition’s second demand focuses on the long wait times some students face when seeking care, saying that each provider should meet with students once a week, at minimum. The third demand asks CPS to institute a maximum wait time from students’ first inquiry to their first appointment.

Fallon included personal reflections on her prior experiences with CPS in the petition, dwelling especially on the long wait time she faced while trying to get an intake meeting after the death of her mother.

“I waited over four weeks to receive an intake appointment to treat my own mental health struggles—an interminable wait following the death of my mother. After receiving an intake, the provider was able to provide care only every other week, and they immediately suggested that I seek off-campus care to acquire sufficient help,” she wrote in the petition.

These personal experiences within CPS were a big motivation to write the petition, especially when Fallon learned many of her friends had similar stories. “I remembered going through [CPS] at Columbia and being disappointed with that process in general,” she said. “And when I brought up that frustration with my friends, every single other person that I talked to had that same experience.”

“And so, it was that—plus the jolt of losing a classmate—that made me write that petition, voice my frustrations, and write down the need for more comprehensive mental health care at Columbia,” Fallon said. She said the Columbia student body currently faces a mental health “crisis.”

Fallon feels like Columbia does not live up to the promises it makes to prospective students. “When touring this campus four years ago, CPS was a resource that was promised to provide support to the student body: an unmet promise throughout my tenure here,” the petition reads.

“I do think that there are a lot of shortcomings that they promise us when we come in as first-years, that aren’t necessarily delivered. One of those things is psychological help,” Fallon explained. 

This unmet promise has been heartbreaking for Fallon and Alyssa, who both professed a great love and appreciation for the Columbia community and their experiences at this school as they approach graduation in just a few weeks.

“Seeing the community that I love so much be so hurt by this mental health crisis was really heartbreaking,” Fallon said, adding that “the administration has not met us where we need, where they had promised us that they would.”

Support for the petition came quickly. Fallon said that she and Alyssa wrote the petition in a single day on March 31, and by that evening it had already gained hundreds of signatures. Fallon was “shocked by how quickly and the magnitude that students showed up in support of that petition.” 

In Fallon’s view, this overwhelming response reflects the “direness” of the situation at Columbia. Alyssa added that the petition is a show of “consolidation of our community itself and how a lot of us are feeling the same things. And I think there’s a lot of power in numbers, and a lot of power in shared experiences and fighting for something as one.”

Fallon emphasized, “This is a real problem…and I’m really proud of the community for showing up.”

Alyssa and Fallon have not stopped at simply publishing the petition; they want it to reach Columbia administration. Fallon said she authored a “pointed” email to administrators last Monday, with a deadline for response by this Wednesday. Fallon says there will be “next steps” publicized if a response with “some sort of action plan” is not given by then.

“If you want to actually support our community in the ways that Columbia advertises, it would mean that you would be listening to us right now,” Alyssa said. “It would mean that you would be listening to the student body and that you would be listening to over 1,500 members who are standing with us, and who are agreeing with us, and that is how you can actually support us as an administration,” she added. 

Alyssa emphasized that they do not want this movement to fizzle out after the two graduate this spring. “We need underclassmen and other people’s support to keep this going, and to really stand for the community,” she said.

“We want to make sure that this is a sustained movement and get things done,” Alyssa concluded. 

As the petition circulates, it only continues to gain signatures. Criticism of Columbia’s mental health resources is far from new, but this movement is organized and gaining steam, showing the urgency with which our community wants reform.

A University spokesperson told Bwog that “Student well-being remains a top priority, and the University continues to prioritize student health and well-being. Any student in crisis can access care, support, and guidance 24/7 through Columbia Health Counseling and Psychological Services.”

Alma via Bwog Archives