Student Government (SG)’s draft resolution on the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) is a first step in a larger important conversation about the state of mental health resources and its role on campus.
Executive slate proposed a resolution last week to address the issues of campus mental health and UCPD conduct. The resolution responds to the shooting of fourth-year Charles Thomas by UCPD officer Nicholas Twardak. The shooting occurred when Thomas appeared to be experiencing a manic episode. The resolution calls for UCPD to publicize its use-of-force policy, for the University to expand mental health programming during orientation and throughout the year, and for the collection of data on student perceptions of the campus mental health climate.
The Maroon Editorial Board supports this resolution as part of a larger campus conversation about the UCPD’s role on campus and in the surrounding community, and as a concrete measure that SG can take to begin addressing the shortcomings of the University’s mental health programming. However, there are several concrete steps that SG’s resolution does not include, such as diversifying Student Counseling’s appointment system, increasing transparency for statistics on student health services, and examining the University’s enrollment policy. The resolution would be stronger if it addressed these issues, and we believe it could still find consensus among members of SG.
Three SG representatives from the Class of 2020—Alisha Harris, Marlin Figgins, and Jahne Brown—have said they will vote “no” on the resolution because it does not address UCPD’s size, the fact that officers carry guns, or the larger problems around the inaccessibility of the University’s mental health services to students of color.
This is a productive conversation to have in the coming weeks while the resolution awaits a vote, but resolutions like the one already proposed can catalyze concrete changes on campus in the wake of Thomas’s shooting. The Editorial Board considers the resolution not as a final solution, but as a viable starting point.
Students currently can only make appointments with student counseling by walking into the office or calling during specified operation hours. The lack of an online appointment service is a major oversight, and the addition of this service could lower the barrier to getting help for students who cannot make it to the Alumni House or who want to make an appointment outside of call hours.
The Editorial Board also believes that re-examining the leave of absence policy would prove fruitful, as the University and SG both strive to better accommodate students experiencing mental health challenges. Currently, the University gives students who need to adjust their enrollment status the choice to take a leave of absence or remain enrolled full-time. Allowing a student to take a reduced course load, rather than choosing between one of these two extremes, would enable a student to remain in the University community while giving them the time to address their mental health.
Additionally, increased transparency regarding Student Health’s off-campus referral rate and return rates could give SG and the University a better idea of what needs to be fixed within Student Health’s services. For example, increased clarity on the policies for referring students to off-campus counseling would help the community understand whether the University needs to address the capacity of its counseling services.
Currently, SG has postponed the vote on the resolution to obtain feedback from student groups and community members affected by UCPD policy, as the dissenting SG representatives suggested. The Editorial Board supports this decision. Taking this time will produce a resolution that reacts to Thomas’s shooting in a meaningful way for the short term, but more importantly, will start a conversation within and around the University about the best way to respond long-term to the ongoing issues of mental health and the UCPD’s role on and around campus. To boycott this resolution entirely, though, is to neglect an important chance to make changes now.