Teaching assistants and other students with instructional and “supervisory” roles will receive mandatory training this month—and in future years—on handling issues of mental health, sexual assault, and discrimination that arise in the classroom, Provost John Coatsworth announced Wednesday.
These measures follow a newfound administrative commitment to promote student mental health after a series of student suicides last winter. In addition to an ongoing collaboration with the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on improving mental health on college campuses, Columbia has also implemented gatekeeper training for orientation and pre-orientation leaders during New Student Orientation Program as well as mandatory faculty training earlier this year.
Through a variety of hypothetical scenarios, the training program will teach TAs how to assess difficult situations and direct students to the appropriate campus resources. In particular, the mental health portion of the program focuses on identifying warning signs of depression and suicidal thoughts.
The training program will also advise TAs on how to accommodate students with disabilities as well as pregnant, transgender, nonbinary, and undocumented students. Additionally, it outlines how to deal with sensitive topics such as race, ethnicity, and politics and how to navigate romantic relationships between TAs and students or faculty.
“It can change behavior,” Coatsworth said in an interview last month regarding the importance of such training for faculty. “It’s one thing if no one’s there to point out to you that you have an obligation or what makes sense to behave in a certain way. It’s another when you get an official document that urges you to behave in a certain way.”