Letter to the Editor: One campus, collective responsibility

We are all still trying to make sense of the announcement that a fellow student, Alyssa Weaver, committed suicide while studying abroad in England. Some students have jumped to blame the Northwestern administration for this tragedy. Institutional improvement is necessary, but NU’s mental health is not only the administration’s responsibility. Rather, we have a duty to look after each other, which transcends any organization’s responsibility.

Northwestern’s social activism has affected real change on campus, from the Living Wage Campaign to student-led discourses on race relations. We’ve heard the typical discussion of seasonal winter-time depression and the like, but issues related to mental health and inclusion have remained far removed from campus discourse.

Fostering inclusion and mental health awareness begins with person-to-person interaction; it is misguided and inappropriate to scapegoat one entity on campus for our collective failure to address these important issues.

We’re continually reminded that we are One Northwestern, and the fact that our community comes closer together in the shadow of tragedy speaks to our ability to connect, include, and comfort. However, we are a community not only in the wake of terrible events but also in the environment that leads to them.

Northwestern’s mental health is our collective responsibility. As friends, neighbors, classmates, and administrators, we must work together to change campus, whether through developing a Mental Health Essential NU, providing further funding for CAPS or organizing a student-led counseling service.

Making lasting changes will impact our time on campus and protect many more in the future. As undergraduates, we only have four years to enact meaningful change, but administrators will be here long after us. As students, we must recognize that administrative support and guidance are necessary to build a cohesive, sustained and appropriate culture of respect and inclusion. We need to engage our faculty and staff, and they need to be willing to listen.

However, we don’t need to attribute blame and intention where it does not exist. Saying the university does not care for the mental well-being of students is false and unproductive, and creating a rhetorical trade-off between better mental health services and other campus improvements is a false dichotomy. We have the capability to create a better campus in multiple spheres at the same time, and if we wish to do so, can collectively prioritize mental health at every level of this institution. At the end of the day, Northwestern is just like its diverse and multi-talented student body — capable of handling more than one activity and priority at the same time.

Beyond student-led organizations and the administration, we also have to look out for each other. Beyond advocating structural changes, we have to look out for our friends on campus. It’s as simple as checking in with friends during the week to make sure that they’re okay, or supporting a friend’s decision to seek counseling. We have lives beyond our resumes and transcripts, and our actions need to reflect that.

Finally, while mental health services and counseling deserve more attention, the fact of the matter is that they do exist now. Please, if you ever need a safe place or words of advice, know that you are irreplaceable to the Northwestern community. Take advantage of CAPS’ suicide prevention resources and find more information on how to recognize warning signs on CAPS’ website. Everyone can take suicide prevention training to help their friends. Educate and protect yourself and others.

Taylor Thomas, Medill junior

Mark Silberg, Weinberg junior

Steven Monacelli, Communication senior