The University of California has notably been recognized as one of leading campuses in mental health services by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Miguel Cardona. In a roundtable discussion that took place on May 19th, 2022, Cardona spoke with four UC Riverside students and praised the campus as being an example of how to support student needs. 

The roundtable itself served as an hour-long Zoom chat between Cardona and the UCR students where Cardona inquired about UCR programs supporting student mental health and well-being during the pandemic and what the federal government can do to build on the campus’ success. 

Cardona referenced UCR’s investment in crisis support, teletherapy and expanded wellness resources, stating, “If we can do what you’re doing at UC Riverside, I know our students, our campuses, will be on the path, not only to academic recovery, but to mental health recovery, and be stronger than ever.”

Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox responded explaining how UCR’s commitment goes beyond providing a quality education to include student well-being. “At UCR, we’re committed to a holistic experience for our students.”

During the roundtable zoom call, Secretary Cardona had addressed issues surrounding the pandemic and it’s effects on the mental health of students across the country. “The pandemic has exposed students from all ages to trauma, from the loss of loved ones to financial hardships to social isolation and learning disruptions,” said Cardona. “In discussions with students across the country, they’ve been honest with me: they need better mental health resources on campus.”

The discussion occurred the same day the Department of Education issued new guidelines on how to use Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds, or HEERF, to provide aid for colleges and universities in support of students and faculty through their mental health challenges.

UCR is notable for having used these funds during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide crisis support and teletherapy to students. In addition, wellness programs and resources were also expanded for staff and faculty. Cardona admired this approach to using the funds and stated during the roundtable that UCR can serve as a model for other universities or colleges. 

The four student leaders from UCR described what campus mental health services have been successful in addressing mental health concerns and where the university can improve as well.

Yuritza Escalante, a fourth-year psychology major and The Well’s student director of outreach and internal relations for the Active Minds program, stated that it is important to increase funding for adequate mental health training for all students, not just student leaders like herself. According to Escalante, increased access to training helps more students be prepared to address mental health needs.

Mario Mendoza, a first-year master’s student in Public Policy and The Well’s graduate peer health educator, noted how The Well has established programs and workshops to meet the needs of graduate students. “A lot of it is about allowing them to have a dialogue and breaking down that stigma.” 

Third-year biology major and the vice chair of the Student Health Advisory Committee, Hana Baig, also discussed the importance of making services accessible, noting UCR’s ride-share program to get students to medical appointments and the elimination of co-payments for behavioral health.

In addition, Valeria Dominguez, a third-year doctoral student at the School of Education and the president of UCR’s Graduate Student Association explained UCR’s expansion of counselors on crisis response teams has served as a vital step in creating situations where students can feel safe.

Cardona ended the meeting with high praise for the four students, noting there’s no better way to promote a university than with its students. “One thing I really want to highlight is that the students at UCR are empowered – empowered to lead, empowered to be agents of change.”