SGA discusses mental health policy and fills vacant seats

“This isn’t even in line with the policy that UMass follows”

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Nina Walat / Daily Collegian.

By Eva Maniatty, Collegian Correspondent

On Wednesday evening, the University of Massachusetts Student Government Association appointed new senators and recommended that the University change policy to involuntarily remove students who may exhibit suicidal thoughts or actions from their courses.

The meeting began with Jakob Gokey, a senior studying public policy, being appointed as the Undersecretary of Veterans Affairs.

When asked what his plans were with his new position, Gokey said, “Our first initiative is getting parking services and policies passed,” which he explained is going to help veterans on campus leave and return easily. “This is going to help those who live on campus get to their jobs.”

Additionally, Cassidy MacMunn, a senior biology major, was chosen to be the next SGA office manager and Kevin Quane, an international exchange student studying physics, filled the treasurer position.

A debate began when the vacant seats in the classes of 2023, 2024, 2025 and 2026 were being filled, because some of the new senators were not part of that specific class. A bylaw that was up for interpretation caused a rift between senators.

One sophomore senator disagreed with the policy that other students could represent a class that wasn’t theirs, saying, “We are talking about potentially taking a fourth of my class’s representation and turning this over to the class that’s not class of 2025.” The senator was extremely concerned about this “dangerous decision.”

Chair of the Administrative Affairs Committee Patrick Collins, a senior political science major and former interim president rebutted, “We shouldn’t not be denying representation to people just because a law has not been updated. We spoke to our attorney, and I’ll say it again, we spoke to our attorney.”

It was agreed that students from other classes could represent the vacant seats open in other classes.

Secretary of Health and Wellbeing, Audrey Gabriel introduced the goals of Access UMass and the “outdated” university policy that allows administration to involuntarily withdraw students from their courses. According to university policy, a student can be involuntarily withdrawn due to “situations that significantly impacts their ability to function in their role as a student.”

The SGA motion specifically targeted the mental health aspect of an involuntary withdrawal. The motion notes that “students with psychosocial disabilities on campus who may pose a risk of suicide are frequently removed from the University without viable options to be reinstated as a student at any future time.”

“This isn’t even in line with the policy that UMass follows or in federal regulations,” Gabriel said. Gabriel noted how the policy “creates a stigma” around psychological crises.

When asked what the correct response would be from the University if there was a student in class with suicidal thoughts that posed a threat to others, Gabriel said, “The correct emergency responder would be able to step in if there was a psychiatric situation or emergency.”

The motion serves as a way that the SGA can publicly state “that it is indisputably unacceptable for students to be removed from enrollment at UMass Amherst, solely on the grounds of suicidal thoughts or ideation — if they are not posing immediate risk or harm to others.”

It further requests for “the revision and removal of the Involuntary Withdrawal Policy as stated in the University’s Academic Regulations handbook and the Dean of Students Office website.” It also asks for additional funding for the Center for Counseling & Psychological Help and the Center for Women and Community “to retain and expand their counseling services to ensure every student receives the appropriate and necessary care they need.”

According to Gabriel, abolishing this policy is vital to the health and wellbeing of students living with struggles they face mentally. “This is more of a call to action rather than immediate fix,” Gabriel said.

The motion to recommend that the University change their policy was passed unanimously by the senate.

Eva Maniatty can be reached at [email protected]