Columbia will implement a mandatory online training program for all faculty and researchers this year that focuses on talking with students about Title IX and immigration law, and on identifying signs of mental health crises in students.
The need for increased mental health care for students was brought to attention following a series of student suicides last year. In interviews with Spectator, mental health experts recommended that Columbia increase the number of gatekeepers who can identify students at risk in order to prevent students who demonstrate warning signs from going unnoticed.
In the week following Spectator’s reporting on Columbia’s suicide rate last fall, Dean of Columbia College James Valentini announced that all college staff, including advisers and student life administrators, would receive gatekeeper training, and Executive Vice President for University Life Suzanne Goldberg said optional training would be made available to faculty and staff universitywide. This is the first time such training will be mandatory for faculty.
Titled “Columbia Faculty and Researcher Briefing: Student Resources, Policies, and Title IX,” the mandatory online briefing—announced by Provost John H. Coatsworth on Thursday—also addresses issues ranging from academic integrity to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Its mental health curriculum aims to give faculty an overview of mental health resources and instructions on how to identify and report mental illness or depression.
“I think it’s important for the University as an institution to signal how we should address these issues as a community,” Coatsworth said in an interview with Spectator. “It’s one thing if no one’s there to explain to you that you have an obligation to behave in a certain way. It’s another thing when you get an official document which urges you to behave in that certain way.”
The briefing includes hypothetical “warning signs” that may indicate suicidal ideation or mental health crises if shown by students, including dramatic changes in appearance or hygiene, repeated absences without response to emails, or statements about feeling helpless or being absent in the future.
“It’s to help [faculty] understand what the rules are, and also to understand and get information on the resources the University has to help students when difficult situations arise,” Coatsworth said. “It’s not like a conventional training where you have to take a quiz … this is really designed to help faculty, not police them.”
The briefing, which takes about 35 minutes to complete, has received “tremendously positive responses” from faculty and researchers, according to Coatsworth.
“We hope this sparks enough interest in what’s available,” Coatsworth said.