Opinion Staff Editorial

How many students must die before UH does something?

Two UH students have died at Agnes Arnold Hall in the past five weeks, leading to an outpouring of grief across campus. | Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

Two UH students have died at Agnes Arnold Hall in the past five weeks, leading to an outpouring of grief across campus. | Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

We’re heartbroken. 

On Monday, a fellow University of Houston student died on our campus, just over a month after another one of our peers died in the same place: Agnes Arnold Hall. 

It’s difficult to quantify the grief that has washed over the UH student body in the last few weeks with these losses. Much of that anguish has turned into an outcry of frustration and anger about why this happened again.

The Editorial Board believes UH has not done enough to make students feel safe, protected and heard on campus. Its investments in student mental health have been paltry, and if its copy-and-paste response to this tragedy is any indication, it’s clear the University hasn’t learned from its past mistakes.

Let’s start with Agnes Arnold Hall. 

Since it was constructed in the ’60s, the building’s open-air concept has been a concern for many on a campus where most structures are conscious of student safety.

The building has effectively been shut down for the semester, with classes (except for those in the auditorium classrooms) and activities being relocated elsewhere on campus.

But why did it take so long? 

This isn’t the first time a student has died there. It happened in 2017 when most current UH students were still in middle and high school. And again last month. 

Agnes Arnold Hall’s notoriety has even spawned crude and tasteless campus euphemisms. Despite campus culture widely associating this building with death over the years, UH waited until now to address it.

This brings us to the University’s response.

After UH posted a statement to social media on Monday offering condolences and pushing on-campus psychological services, many students were quick to point out that it was incredibly similar to the statement the school released after last month’s student death.

Some were also critical of the photos used in the posts in front of the statements, which were seen as a way to disguise them and not interrupt the school’s social media feeds.

An empty statement accomplishes nothing. But rearranging that same statement in the wake of another tragedy and expecting no one to notice shows that you don’t care.

Students speaking out against UH’s response to an on-campus death is nothing new. After the 2017 incident at Agnes Arnold Hall, one student criticized the University for not acknowledging the death to the UH community.

“People are carrying on like it’s just another day and are treating this situation like it’s normal,” another student said in 2017.

The Editorial Board is also concerned that the University is peddling its Counseling and Psychological Services in the wake of these deaths despite its history of not sufficiently investing in CAPS and not prioritizing mental health.

In 2016, a Texas Tribune investigation found that CAPS was by far the most understaffed program of its kind in the state’s universities.

These issues have persisted, even as academic pressure on students has mounted. 

“I wouldn’t waste my time going again because they don’t put the effort to help in the long run,” one student told The Cougar in January.

The International Association of Counseling Services recommends college counseling centers have at least one full-time professional staff member for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. That ratio at CAPS is now one full-time staffer per 2,122 students.

At the root of the program’s issues is funding. More than half of the CAPS budget is used to pay their 22 staffers, leaving little for expansion or improvement. CAPS also suffers because it’s funded through student fees, which can fluctuate drastically from year to year due to the economy and enrollment.

Just last year, the Student Fees Advisory Committee, the body that doles out these funds, warned that University-wide budget cuts could be coming because of these factors.

We’re glad to hear that the school is establishing a task force on mental health, but its too little too late for those our community has already lost.

In recent years, UH has poured plenty of time and resources into making this University better and improving student life.

For example, the school’s Cougar Promise initiative gave low-income students access to higher education; its interim grading policy saved many students from academic ruin in the early days of the pandemic; and projects such as the new medical school and The Quad have expanded student life across campus.

On the national stage, UH has celebrated milestone after milestone, including the impending move to the Big 12 Conference, one of its best men’s basketball teams in a generation and a renowned business school. 

Everyone at UH benefits from these achievements and investments, but when students continue to die in broad daylight on our campus, what does any of that matter? 

The attention and resources that have been dedicated to building UH into a so-called academic and athletic powerhouse must also go toward maintaining the well-being of its students.

What could possibly matter more?

We end by urging our peers to be loud about their concerns and to fight for the difference they want to see. 

During these difficult times, remember that you are not alone and that there are family and friends who care for you. The Cougar strives to be there for its community and has an open door for anyone who needs it. 

Leave a Comment