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Provost's Update - March 2019

Student wellness at Virginia Tech is a multifaceted, campus-wide commitment that is closely connected to opportunities for diverse educational experiences and the learning that comes from personal exploration and discovery. There are many components to this commitment including physical, financial, social, community, and emotional well-being that together provide a strong foundation for learning and holistic growth.

To assess specific issues surrounding student well-being, the Provost’s Office recently formed a Mental Health Task Force that was charged with identifying factors affecting student mental health that included the social, cultural, and biological impacts that may influence the development and treatment of mental health issues. In partnership with the Division of Student Affairs, the task force was also charged with identifying issues associated with mental health services currently available on our campus, anticipating how the university may address existing needs, and proactively planning for future support of mental health programs for our institution.

Led by Chris Wise, assistant vice president for student affairs, and with membership that included Virginia Tech students, the director of Cook Counseling, faculty, and experts in psychiatry, psychology, epidemiology, and neurosciences, the task force confirmed in its report that Virginia Tech has an appropriate and effective system for addressing mental health issues among students. It also found that there are opportunities for enhancing current processes  and developing new programs and services to support the emotional and overall well-being of our campus community. I had the opportunity to share this overview of the Mental Health Task Force’s report with the Board of Visitors during its most recent meeting.

In its report presented to the Provost’s Office in March, the Mental Health Task Force made recommendations that included ensuring availability of accurate information and data on mental health issues, providing training and education, and developing systems for coordinating resources and efforts on campus. The task force also encouraged collaborative research on mental health challenges and impacts, and engagement in ongoing efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of our own practices.

As leaders of our academic enterprise and in support of our students, I believe that we need to be public and active in our commitment to addressing mental health issues of our students that may stem from any number of stressors such as financial challenges, social anxieties, or family problems. We should also use the report to communicate the services and systems we currently have and the opportunities we may create in the future to support the holistic well-being of our campus community.

I am encouraged by the findings of the Mental Health Task Force and the progress we have made in partnership with the Division of Student Affairs and the Cook Counseling Center. That being said, we should remain steadfastly focused on developing new programs and opportunities to serve students struggling with mental health challenges. The Board of Visitors has requested an open discussion of the report and its findings during the Board’s June information session. I invite you and your unit administrators to attend this upcoming discussion, if your schedules allow.

It is my hope that we will always be committed to doing more for students who are living with mental health challenges and that you will work with me to prioritize this issue on behalf of our entire campus community.