Earlier this week, the Weekly received a letter to the editor from UC Irvine regarding Antsy 'Eaters, my last cover on the mental wellness situation at UC Irvine. Below is the text of that letter and my response.
I understand that there are multiple organizations on campus that are involved in maintaining the student body's mental wellness–and I mention several of them in the story–but the Counseling Center is the most visible of those organizations and, in the mind of the students, the first point of contact for their mental health issues. As such, I feel that it is appropriate that they undergo primary scrutiny.
I do not believe that my report of wait times is incorrect. I specifically wrote that there is an urgent-care counselor available to see students the day off. The two-week figure I cite as a minimum is taken directly from Counseling Center staff and is regularly cited on the Counseling Center's website and by its staff, including by Counseling Center Director Jeanne Manese during her address to the students during the Isla Vista vigil. I would not be surprised to find out that some students receive help within two or three weeks, but that is the beast that is scheduling, and I would not be surprised to find out that that is more an exception than a norm.
During my interviews, I had multiple, unrelated students tell me independently that they had experienced or had friends that had experienced multi-month wait times, the most recent account coming from about a month and a half ago. I have no reason not to believe them.
Preventative and outreach measures are important, but the issues that currently exist exist in spite of those measures, and, as Assistant Vice Chancellor Holmes told me during our interview, outreach services are temporarily being scaled back as the Counseling Center dedicates more of its full-time staff to counseling.
I'm not surprised to find out that 90 percent of respondents are happy with the help they receive from the Counseling Center. In the interviews I conducted, the majority of students agreed that the center's staff worked hard and cared about their students, the main problem is that they're understaffed, and I don't see how satisfaction levels help with that. It feels to me that retention rate is a flawed metric to use to determine student happiness, especially for a commuter heavy campus like UCI. Under other metrics, alternate school organizations don't list a single UC campus in the top 20 most happy college campuses.
Now for some real talk: I love UC Irvine. My time spent there was supremely influential, and it's easy to say that I would not be where I am today if I had gone to a different school. Because of that, I want the school to be the best that it can be. Mental health is also an important issue to me. When I was still a student, I would have been a prime candidate for urgent care multiple times. Several of my friends who are students now receive services from the counseling center.
I'm happy to be able to say that all of the feedback I've received from students and recent alumni for the story has been overwhelming positive. The students know its an issue, otherwise they wouldn't be bringing it up during meetings with the UC President, or writing about it so much. As for the cover, I'll quote my editor-in-chief, Gustavo Arellano, when he says "It was an arresting, touching encapsulation of a problem that seems to affect UCI more than other schools. I see no reason to apologize for or retract the cover."