MSA shifts attention to mental health

The group aims to enact a five-point plan introduced during last spring’s election.

by Erik Newland and Fletcher Wolfe

After pushing for an affirmative consent policy at the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Student Association is now shifting gears toward its mental health initiative.
MSA President Joelle Stangler and Vice President Abeer Syedah created a five-point plan to tackle mental health problems as part of their election platform last spring. Now, the group wants to enact its plan to prevent mental health problems, expand partnerships with student groups and increase the priority of mental health in MSA meetings, all while discussing mental health with school administrators.
Syedah said the move toward discussing mental health issues is a growing trend among many colleges. 
According to its plan, MSA will push for funding from tuition for mental health resources.
Syedah said tuition funds health services at many colleges, but fees fund them at the University.
“I think it’s important, obviously, because it affects literally everyone and all students’ well-being,” Syedah said.
Stangler said MSA has been working on improving mental health for years, but it now has the opportunity to bring it further into the public’s attention.
“We were working on mental health stuff, and we were getting student feedback, but it wasn’t something where we were being very vocal about it in the same way we were being really vocal about sexual assault prevention,” she said.
Stangler said the plan’s five points are all of equal importance, and she hopes to make progress on all of them this year. She said she wants to begin by discussing excused absences with the Provost’s Committee on Student Mental Health, which was created in 2005.
The provost’s committee will meet in October to discuss mental health and changes to the University’s bereavement policy, she said.
Stangler said the provost’s involvement means the University recognizes mental health problems as an academic issue, which she said sets the University apart from other schools of its size.
In updating the language of the bereavement policy, MSA aims to make the University’s policy closer to Purdue University’s, which allows students to take a specified amount
of time off based on their relation to a dead relative, she said.
Last year, Stangler said, MSA passed a similar initiative, but it created “no substantive changes” when it reached the Student Senate.
The University’s administrative policy on legitimate absences does not include any specific language on how many days a student can take for bereavement.
Overall, MSA hopes to better connect with the student body, said MSA Speaker of the Forum William Dammann. 
“MSA leadership has been criticized in the past for kind of being secluded from the rest of student government, and we’re trying to break down those walls by getting people more involved,” he said.