Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Advertise in our classifieds section
Your classified listing could be here!
October 4, 2022

Mental health advocacy must exist in classrooms

Jacklin Del Rosario

Mental health is a major factor in the college experience, as students have to balance different stressors while also staying on top of their health. While mental health can disrupt your daily life, it is still often undermined by universities and can be difficult to communicate in a classroom setting. 

Professors must better outline how mental health will be handled in their classroom and emphasize judgment-free environments to promote a healthy classroom.

“I’ve definitely heard from friends and classmates where they were struggling with something and they felt like the professor would not accommodate for that,” said Akshara Kolli, a psychology junior and president of Active Minds.

While there might not be one straightforward solution, there are ways to ensure better communication and support for students who may be struggling with mental health implications. This includes outlining steps in the syllabus and clearly defining the best way to approach the topic. 

“When professors go through their syllabus and explain if there’s a medical emergency that may permit a student from taking an exam … you would be expected to not come to class,” Kolli said. “I wish that they would specify that that also pertains to mental health struggles.”

It’s important for professors to highlight explicit guidelines for mental health within their syllabus so students aren’t confused as to what their first actions should be. 

“I give them some explicit instructions in my syllabus, and I tried to call those instructions out at the beginning of the semester,” assistant professor of instruction Nolan Bentley said. “So I provide text that directs them to the student services and try to make myself available for students to contact if they are unsure.”

Communication is a first difficult step since mental health is personal. Students may not want to share, especially as professors haven’t always been accommodating.  

“Professors used to say, ‘You come take that exam, unless your mother’s dead’ or ‘I don’t care how sick you are,’” assistant professor of instruction William Babler said.

This is the kind of reaction that students are scared of, in which their struggles get waved off as an excuse. 

“I would never want to take the lead to raise an issue with a student if they don’t want to talk about an issue, particularly mental health (as) a very sensitive issue,” said Babler, “Usually when I get a letter, I will contact the student …  I talk to them about accommodating. I think they have to feel safe.”

Professors need to highlight the best way for students to communicate with them, but it’s also important to accommodate. Necessary accommodations will vary on a case-by-case basis and may have limitations. 

“I may not change due dates or things, but I may say, ‘Here are these resources that are appropriate for this situation,’” Bentley said. “Everything else is a lot more flexible than your traditional classroom and it was because when I designed this class … I wanted it to be very flexible in those situations.”

Professors should be there to help and find some way to make their class accommodating, whether it be making the class flexible beforehand or working more with a student after the fact, mental health deserves to be better acknowledged and handled within a classroom setting. 

Rail is an English sophomore from El Paso, Texas.

More to Discover