The final questionnaire was sent to 780 U.S. and Canadian CGS members or affiliates during the spring and summer of 2020 and 241 valid responses (31%) were received. Public institutions made up 72% of the respondents and 11% were from U.S. minority-serving institutions. Information was collected from graduate deans, graduate students, student affairs professionals, disciplinary society representatives and researchers. The CGS/JED researchers developed a questionnaire about institutional practices and policies related to supporting graduate student mental health and well-being. Ortega said the most direct way to address stresses specifically felt by graduate students of color is to provide open and honest space to discuss the challenges and to respond quickly to situations that may intensify their stress levels and impact mental health.
“Supporting Graduate Student Mental Health and Well-being: Evidence-Informed Recommendations for the Graduate Community” is the result of a 22-month project that began prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unquestionably the pandemic has led to additional stress and impact to mental health, which is taken into consideration. Dr. Nancy Roy
“We were already knowing there were rising concerns about graduate student mental health and well-being,” said Dr. Suzanne Ortega, president of CGS. “What we rapidly learned is that COVID, the police killings, the anti-Blackness waves have really amplified the stress that people were feeling.” Those are the findings from a new report from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and The Jed Foundation (JED), which provides a framework for individual and collective action to support the mental health and well-being of master’s and doctoral students.
“Many schools do not include in their overall strategic plan for the institution, a focus on mental health,” said Roy. The report, she said, calls for identifying mental health in the strategic plan, which will be the guide for allocation of resources. “We have tried to frame the report with a sense of urgency around the need to do two things: (1) respond to students in extreme distress…and (2) prevention. How are we going to create healthier environments that reduce the hyper-competitiveness and unneeded stress?,” asked Ortega. Project team member Dr. Nance Roy, chief clinical officer of JED, said it was important to include information about and recommendations for the different stakeholders in graduate education, adding that it was also crucial to recognize the needs of traditionally marginalized groups, including Black, Latinx, first-gen, LGBTQ and students with intersectional identities.
The report presents both a framework for action and offers specific recommendations for senior administration, deans, program directors, department chairs, graduate faculty and graduate students. “There are so many levels at which racism and anti-Blackness and structured inequality occur that senior administrators and faculty mentors really need to be attentive to the many different ways individuals are affected—overt acts of racism, microaggressions,” said Ortega. “I’ve been particularly touched to hear students talk about the impact of color invisibility, this notion that faculty and programs are trying hard to be colorblind and how that is not an acknowledgment of the experience and the richness and the contribution a person brings to the program.”
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