Harvard bomb threat sparks dialogue about stress-management resources on campus

Last month, a sophomore at Harvard University falsely reported that shrapnel bombs had been placed around the campus to avoid taking a final exam, later claiming in his defense that he acted because of a large amount of academic pressure. While this is an extreme case of how stress can lead a student to act rashly, it calls into question the resources that are provided to college students across the country to help them cope with the pressures of being an undergraduate.

According to Associate Dean of Orientation and Student Transition Laura Doane, if a similar situation were to arise at Tufts, the university’s emergency operations would be put into motion to deal with it appropriately.

“The sad thing is we do have emergency protocols in place. We hope we don’t have to use them,” she said.

Julie Jampel, director of Training and Continuing Education at Counseling and Mental Health Service (CMHS), explained that one resource that aims to help students handle stress — not only during emergencies, but throughout the semester — is the support that the counseling center provides.

“Most students who call us for an appointment are able to schedule it within a couple of days,” Jampel told the Daily in an email. “At certain points in the semester, when we are especially busy, it may be necessary to wait a week or so for an appointment. However, we are able to accommodate those students who need to be seen urgently.”

Sophomore Emma Brenner-Bryant, co-president of Tufts Health Advocates (THA), a student advisory board to Tufts’ Health Service, relayed student concerns that counselors are not available enough.

“We consistently hear that you can’t get in and make an appointment,” she said.

According to Brenner-Bryant, when THA has brought these student concerns to CMHS, the service reported that they would need more funding to accommodate these concerns. This lack of resources, Brenner-Bryant pointed out, can leave students without the care they require.

“Tufts students are the kind of kids who will keep it together and not say they need mental health services,” Brenner-Bryant said. “We pretend we can suck it up … Students don’t know how to handle it in a productive way. There’s a lot of drinking and partying to try [to] relax because we’re all so uptight and stressed during the school year.”

According to the CMHS, its primary goal is prevention of mental health problems — a goal that can prove difficult without the proper amount of resources, like a sufficient number counselors.

“I personally don’t think that Tufts has enough of a support system in place for those who need it,” Brenner-Bryant explained.

Dean John Barker was unable to comment on the amount of funding allocated per annum to the CMHS. The Mandatory Health Services Fee for the 2013-14 academic year is $710, according to the Bursar, and although all students pay this fee, only 25 percent of students use their health services resources annually, according to the service.

Doane, in contrast to Brenner-Bryant’s concerns, affirmed her belief that the CMHS is prepared to provide the support it claims to offer.

“[The CMHS] is prepared for and really does see the gamut — homesickness, general stress, adjusting to the college environment — academically and socially, which is particularly true for first and second semester students,” Doane said. “They’re well-equipped for students who are willing to harm themselves or others. They’re trained clinicians.”

THA, however, has found that the setup of the CMHS is not aligned with most students’ needs for long-term counseling. According to the CMHS website, students with more complex mental health needs will be referred to off-campus clinicians.

“Another issue is they only have short-term counseling,” Brenner-Bryant said. “A lot of people are turned off by that. But then [students] don’t have the resources to get off campus … So the next question is: Would students be willing to pay more for the health services fee?”

Doane pointed out that the service is supposed to be accessible to all students, whether they have mental health problems or not.

“Not only is our support available and ready, but every student is expected to access that support,” she said. “It is better to start … using [this] kind of support now rather than later.”

Doane noted that another year-round resource that students can access is Time Management and Study Strategies (TM & SS) Consulting, where students can work one-on-one with a consultant about anything from time management to test-taking strategies.

“TM & SS is the best non-secret on campus,” Doane said. “The idea behind that is that no matter how rigorous your high school curriculum, college coursework is different. I see students who do well in class, get the material and do well on homework, and then they bomb a test.”

Brenner-Bryant attributed a lot of student stress to excessive workloads, not to a lack of time management.12