Radius Roundtable is a new series of interviews that attempts to facilitate fruitful discussions among people with contrasting opinions on various topics that affect the 5Cs. By choosing two people with differing opinions and having them sit down for a conversation in a private, non-debate format, we hope to discover areas of agreement and possible plans for action on polarizing issues. Likewise, we hope to make these writeups as productive and honest as possible by preserving the anonymity of our interview subjects. With this in mind, the article will refer to the two participants as Eli and Alex.
For our first topic, we chose to address the issue of mental health support on college campuses. This was not an easy conversation for either participant. Going into this conversation, I knew that mental health was a complicated and emotional topic that was bound to provoke personal and visceral responses. Even given that, I was taken aback by the candor, strength, and impact of Eli and Alex’s personal experiences. The bond between the two of them over their personal experiences was striking.
"As the conversation came close to tears multiple times, it was clear that both individuals’ struggle with mental health had affected their lives in profound ways, and that both of their thoughts came from personal philosophies that had been built on the back of painful struggle. These are neither academic opinions nor theoretical conjectures, but expressions of personal and self-reflective beliefs"
I feel that it is important to communicate this for a few reasons: to honor the emotional effort that both parties underwent, to contextualize the mission and outcomes of the conversation, and to demonstrate how issues around mental health are always intrinsically personal, emotional, and difficult to confront.
The fact that this topic is so difficult to discuss is also one of the reasons why discussing mental health on campus is so vital. Increasing academic pressure from top colleges has led to many feeling overwhelmed and under supported, as colleges are forced to grapple between balancing academic rigour and their students’ mental health. This has especially become an issue on the 5Cs. Monsour Counseling’s long wait times and the colleges’ approach to mental health have caused increasing backlash from students.
Eli was clear throughout the conversation that mental health support from the the college was imperative. He felt that access to support of all kinds had to be greatly improved; at the same time, campus culture around work and mental health had to shift. While campus work culture remains hyper competitive and mental health support is stigmatized, these additional resources just aren’t as useful. As he put it, “you have to have a campus culture that isn’t toxic towards not being the best”.
Alex, on the other hand, had starkly different views on how mental health should be approached, as well as the responsibilities that colleges have to provide resources. While he felt that colleges should have on campus support for extreme cases, he was adamant that colleges should shift mental health support to a structure where students could independently face their own issues. He felt that the rhetoric should shift to “it’s going to be ok because you can do it — not because we’re here for you”.
Eli consistently stressed the need for balance in the work culture of the 5Cs, and Alex agreed that schools like Harvey Mudd can create unhealthy environments with the amount of work they assign. As previously stated, Eli argued that there needs to be a shift in culture away from academic perfection and towards personal fulfillment. He also criticized the employer/school relationship, which he felt placed an expectation on schools to be unreasonably difficult. Alex had a different criticism of the school’s culture around mental health; he felt that schools should provide advice to incoming students about how to grapple with their own mental health.
Given the vastly different philosophies of the two participants, it was striking to me how much agreement and progress they were able to find together. Both of them agreed over many of the issues facing college campuses, such as unhealthy culture and rhetoric, and both were also able to find validity in many of the solutions posed by the other. Although this support often came with caveats, it was impressive how much progress was able to be made in such a polarized discussion.
Eli agreed that Alex’s plan to educate incoming students on ways to handle their own mental health could be useful, though he stressed that it wouldn’t be a substitute for proper mental health resources. Likewise, Alex was able to agree that although he felt it could be wasteful to spend too much on medical support, some students’ need for medication meant that it could be important to create a place for more access. Both students, drawing from their personal experience, were in agreement that the systems around reporting fellow students were dangerous and unhelpful.
Just as it was striking how two people who had both grappled with mental health issues could settle on different core perspectives, I found it interesting how much overlap these shared experiences created between two people who were otherwise so divided. I felt that this conversation helped produce a kind of empathy and understanding, that, although it didn’t necessarily shift core perspectives, created paths forward for positive change.
Edited by Editor-in-Chief David Brown