On Sunday, Feb. 18 at 11:18 p.m., Macalester President Brian Rosenberg sent an email to students, faculty and staff announcing that Matias “Tea” Sosa-Wheelock, a sophomore, had died from suicide. For most of the college community, that message was the first they knew of Sosa-Wheelock’s passing. However, a small number of friends, residents of Wallace Hall and bystanders had been aware of the situation for hours. They’re still dealing with it today.
Students rarely see Macalester’s responses to their individual struggles beyond each unique, isolated moment. But as an institution, Macalester has set policies and procedures for dealing with the aftermath of campus suicides as well as the larger issues of mental healthcare and mental illness.
Involuntary leave policies across the nation are a result of educational institutions walking a fine line between balancing student health concerns and complying with a litany of federal obligations. Fail to walk that line, and college administrators risk violating civil rights laws.
Despite their role on the front lines of student life, Macalester professors are often unequipped to do the work of identifying and helping students struggling with their mental health. In the current mental health climate, that unpreparedness is having serious consequences.
In contrast to the loud decor of the Kagin Commons, sits the Disability Services office. You’d be forgiven for not knowing that it’s there. Despite its geographic isolation, Disability Services has been busy. As of Jan. 2018, 247 students were receiving accommodations, 157 of them for psychological needs.
On April 8, as part of the “Macalester Sunday” program, President Brian Rosenberg said colleges “were never designed to be mental health providers.” But, increasingly, they need to be. As students’ mental health concerns grow, demand for the support services in the Health and Wellness Center has become a focus of many.
Almost two years after the Carleton College community experienced student suicide, the Northfield school has made significant strides in increasing its suicide prevention and mental healthcare provision efforts. In the wake of the student death at Macalester, Carleton’s system could be an example of positive change.
As Health and Wellness Center (HWC) employees begin to look beyond Macalester’s campus to develop programming aimed at addressing various mental health needs at the school, many students, faculty and staff remain in the dark about how Macalester compares to peer institutions and the nation at large.
The campus culture is exceedingly careful and frequently indirect when discussing mental health diagnoses like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder even where it has grown comfortable in discussing mental health challenges like anxiety and lack of sleep.