Defunding Mental Health – A slippery slope

Mental health is a serious concern for all college students. Students today are under immense pressure to succeed, make friends, have a job, volunteer and do service work, and so many other things. This increased pressure has resulted in decreased mental health. ActiveMinds, a nonprofit which advocates for issues regarding student mental health, states that 39% of college students have experienced a significant mental health issue, and that suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. These issues are compounded by specific STEM fields like Animal Science, and Biology where the vast majority of students are seeking to enter very competitive and rigorous post-graduation programs. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 67% of veterinary students have had periods of depression. Of which 37% had a period of depression lasting over 2 weeks.

While scrolling through Inside Higher Ed, a website that discusses issues within higher education, I found an article titled, Defunding Student Mental Health.

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/10/18/mental-health-low-priority-community-colleges

In the article it talks about how 2 year community colleges are defunding mental health programs due to high costs and under funding. This bothers me due to the high number of transfers that enter Animal Science programs from community colleges and 2 year schools. I am a graduate teaching assistant for the Intro to Animal and Poultry Science lab for first year students and a very large proportion of my students are transfers from 2 year or other 4 year colleges and universities. Not only do these students tend to have a harder time adjusting than regular freshman do, they also tend to have less time to check all of the boxes for graduation than a typical freshman student. This all combines into a serious mental health concern that will only be compounded if community colleges begin a large scale defunding of mental health services. It is imperative that these students have strong mental health habits so that they are prepared to handle the stress and pressure that comes with being a transfer student.

This article also struck a cord with me due to the general poor state of mental health services at colleges and universities. These programs are generally underfunded and understaffed, and are not adequate to solve the mental health needs of students today. For example, recently a friend of mine was experiencing a episode of depression. They went to Cook Counselling Center to make an appointment to see a Counselor and were turned away because they were not having suicidal thoughts. My friend does not have personal medical insurance, and therefore cannot afford to see an outside specialist. Needless to say, the were left helpless during this episode and had no options to speak to someone about their depression. While this is an isolated incident, it does shed light on the state of mental health services, even here at Virginia Tech.

I am discouraged by the current defunding of mental health services at community colleges and hope that this is not a trend that will extend into major universities. Students today are under more pressure than ever to succeed, and these services are vital for their success and well-being while in college.

 

Inside Higher Ed. (October 18, 2019) https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/10/18/mental-health-low-priority-community-colleges

Active Minds. (2019).

Statistics

American Veterinary Medical Association (May, 2016) https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/160501c.aspx

Intersectionality

As a middle class, white, straight male I have known very little discrimination in my life. Therefore, intersectionality is a new term for me.  Intersectionality is the idea that all of the discrimination and disadvantages, that come from various ethnic groups that an individual identifies with, compound to increase the disadvantages that a person faces. This idea seems like common sense if you think about it. It seems obvious that an individual who identifies as black and female would face more disadvantages than someone who identifies as white and female. However, how I plan to use intersectionality in the workplace represents a conundrum for me, since I can’t manipulate others disadvantages and can only work within my own.

In summer of 2018, I participated in a diversity based internship at Iowa State university called the George Washington Carver Summer Research Internship. While there, we focused on science, diversity, and the intersection between the two. We discussed how disadvantages among ethnic groups create disadvantages in access to opportunities within science and college. During this internship, I asked many experts and peers what I could do, as a white man, to increase access to opportunity in science. Repeatedly, the answer was that i needed to be an advocate for lesser represented individuals. That I could use my privilege to speak on the behalf of others who are underrepresented and increase opportunity through my voice and ideas. So, just like intersectionality seems like common sense, it also seems reasonable to think that advantages can behave in the same way. And that numerous advantages can compound to form increased access to opportunity. Therefore, I plan to use the numerous advantages I gain from my ethnic groups (white, straight, male, etc.) to become a better advocate for underrepresented groups in the workplace and to increase opportunity through my voice and actions.

While intersectionality refers to how disadvantages can compound to form increased discrimination, we should also be aware of how advantages can also compound to form opportunities to be advocates for diversity. Those of us who identify with advantaged ethnic groups must use those advantages to increase opportunities for underrepresented groups.

Diversity in Animal Science

The single biggest diversity issue in Animal Science is the male to female ratio in undergraduates, graduates, and faculty members. For over 30 years, animal science has been a majority female profession. The undergraduate statistics, for Virginia Tech, show that APSC has 80% female students and 20% male students. This is pretty consistent with the national average for undergraduates. This would be fine, except that the majority of faculty members in APSC are still male. Additionally, a number of the male faculty members came in during a time where females were discouraged and rare in animal science. Therefore, they still exist under the “boys club mentality”.  This creates friction within the department as many of the faculty members prefer to deal with male students rather than females. For example, during my freshman year, an older male professor was advising a new, female student when she expressed her interest in becoming an equine veterinarian. This professor has a known distaste for equine animals and veterinary students, and told this freshman student, “You have nothing to offer to this department”.

In graduate school, the statistics between students are closer to 50/50 but clearly still a majority women. Currently, a number of us are in a professional development course that is taught by an older white gentleman. In this class, we have only read literature by, or heard from older white professors. Some of these papers have overtly sexist sections to them, and are being taught as fact and sheer wisdom.

The problem with all of this is that the faculty in Animal Science is not adequate to serve the needs of the students enrolled. The majority of the students are female and have access to very few role models and professors that have similar life struggles and experiences as they do. This puts female students at a disadvantage compared to the few male students, as they often have an easier time connecting with faculty and finding research and work opportunities. This difference should fix itself over time, as the older male professors retire and are replaced with majority female individuals. However, the students enrolled now, and those that will enroll before this change happens are going to have to struggle in a system that is not designed for them to succeed.

This link gives a few of the national statistics in Veterinarians. Take a look if you are interested!

https://www.vmdtoday.com/news/veterinary-medicine-is-a-womans-world