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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


CAPS expansion, changes to Agnes Arnold Hall coming in near future

Agnes Arnold Hall pictured in 2018. | File Photo

A semester after two students lost their lives to suicide at Agnes Arnold Hall, the UH community is still healing. While steps have been taken to bolster mental health on campus, some students still have their reservations. 

Back  in June, the University announced a plan which included expansions to mental health services and renovations for Agnes Arnold Hall. Still, students criticized what they saw as a sluggish response from administrators.

“Like many students, I felt pretty deeply impacted by the loss of both of the students last year,” said psychology junior Alexis Boehmer. “I hadn’t known them personally but having had my own struggles with mental health and watching the unfortunate lack of an initial response from administration really stuck with me.”

The University has since allocated $38 million for renovations at Agnes Arnold, which is home to 450 classes weekly and has been closed since March. 

“I know administration and finance did everything in its capacity with the little time it was given to renovate the building, safeguard it, provide for employees to ensure that’s done,” said Student Government Association President Benjamin Rizk. “Although it was an unfortunate wake-up call, they’ve been called to action and they’ve been executing since and then we’ll continue to execute for years to come.”

The permanent solution, planned for some time next year, is to install vertical cabling, which will replace the temporary fences. Additionally, the perimeter security fence will remain in place for the duration of the school year. 

UH also plans to expand Counseling and Psychological Services — the University’s primary mental health service. Students should expect to see signs with information pertaining to mental health resources and hotlines on campus. 

In addition, the University has hired a vendor to provide 24/7 mental health support services to students and will be enhancing  this program in September. 

UH  has also taken steps to address staffing needs at CAPS by offering more competitive compensation and filling vacant positions. The University will also be adding college-specific counselors for each school, with at least three starting at the beginning of the fall semester.

“On paper, these changes sound amazing,” Boehemer said. “If UH follows through on all of this then I think this is a great stepping stone towards improving mental health on campus.” 

The failure to be proactive in CAPS’ approach to engaging students was one of the leading concerns at the student protest in March. Currently, only four percent of the student body utilizes campus mental health resources, a figure the University thinks should be larger. 

“One significant takeaway for me was that we should not be satisfied by serving those students who come to CAPS but follow a “best practice” to double the number of the student body served to 8% of the student body,” wrote President Renu Khator in her June update.  

The University will be allocating space for CAPS at the student center and is hoping to add a location there permanently, Khator said. 

The administration developed the plans based on recommendations from a special task force that was assembled in April and an external review of current services. 

UH also underwent an audit process from mental health officials at Ohio State University, the University of Central Florida and Arizona State University to improve services here. 

While the University has only implemented a part of what the task force advised, it is considering all of their recommendations, UH spokesperson Chris Stipes told the Houston Chronicle in June. 

With a plan in place and tragedy hopefully in the rearview, Rizk said he feels the University is once again on the right course.

“I would honestly commend the efforts in many regard(s),” Rizk said.  “I wish it happened earlier, but I can say that UH has confidently and stridently been going like a train at trying to solve all these issues.”

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