A little more than one day after a former student fell from the same garage one student fell from days before, University President Michael Drake announced the creation of a task force to improve Ohio State’s mental health practices and resources.
“Tonight, I am announcing a task force led by Dr. Eileen Ryan, interim chair of our Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, and Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, senior vice president for Student Life, to further evaluate national best practices and provide recommendations to me within 60 days,” Drake said in a statement.
On Sunday, Drake said he directed Ohio State public safety officials to launch a review of facilities on campus and enhance safety measures.
“These incidents have been shocking to our community and truly heartbreaking for the families, friends and loved ones of the victims. I know you join me in offering support and condolences,” he said. “The safety and well-being of our university community is — and always will be — our first priority. Thank you for continuing to support your classmates and colleagues throughout our Buckeye family.”
University administrators and student leaders began meeting Monday to address the concern for adequate mental health resources at Ohio State and review whether a restructuring of garages is needed.
Daniel Birdsall, a second-year in criminology, fell from the South Union Garage Thursday, and Kelly Denlinger, a former student, fell from the same garage Sunday. Both were rushed to the Wexner Medical Center in critical condition. Birdsall died Thursday and Denlinger remains in critical condition.
University leadership, including administrators involved with the Office of Student Life, the Department of Public Safety, CampusParc and Facilities Operation and Development have been meeting to review garages and consider potential additions that could prevent incidents like those that occurred Thursday and Sunday from happening.
Many students were unhappy Monday morning when little information was sent from administration, though meetings regarding the tragedies were taking place around that time.
“We understand that students are upset and we are very troubled, too,” said university spokesman Chris Davey. “Anytime that we lose a member of our community or someone gets seriously injured, it’s very upsetting for all of us. To have two incidents occur in such a short span of time in the same place, I think, has all of us very upset.”
Davey said the university’s increase in Counseling and Consultation Service counselors in 2016 allows for more students’ mental health needs to be addressed, but said administrators recognize the counseling service still isn’t perfect.
“[University administrators] know, and we hear from students that tell us, that we can still do better,” Davey said. “We’re going to be in dialogue and continue to examine our systems.”
Undergraduate Student Government also is seeking to continue the dialogue on mental health resources. The group plans to hold conversations specifically on students’ mental health in its Tuesday cabinet meeting, as well as in meetings with leaders, including a meeting with Drake planned for Wednesday, said Shamina Merchant, USG’s president.
“I think we all as a campus need to come together and figure out what we can do to make sure students have the resources they need,” Merchant said. “This is the No. 1 priority in conversation with administrators across the board and we see them echo the sentiment that students feel they have adequate mental health resources now and into the future.”
USG is essentially the only student group that meets with the administration regularly, conversing with leaders such as Drake and Vice President for Student Life Javaune Adams-Gaston. The student group arguably has the most direct voice to call for action or change on campus.
Counselors from CCS are available to meet with classes and students who need support as needed, said Dave Isaacs, a spokesman for the Office of Student Life.
In addition to the university’s effort to increase counseling following the incidents, the GroupMe message app is being used by hundreds of students to organize events on campus like hanging up flyers with mental health resources or sending a letter to Drake. The group filled with students early Saturday morning and has continued to grow since.
Members of the group, along with Buckeyes Campaign Against Suicide, are meeting Monday night to put informational mental health resource flyers in campus garages.
A vigil for lost lives is being held Wednesday in the Great Hall meeting room in the Union at 7 p.m. All students and members of the Ohio State community are invited to attend and honor the lives of students who died too soon, Merchant said.
Ohio State’s Counseling and Consultation Service is located on the 4th floor of the Younkin Success Center on Neil Avenue. An additional location is at Lincoln Tower room 1030 on Cannon Drive. The service can be reached at 614-292-5766.
A crisis text line can be reached any day at any hour at 741741. Text “home” to the number for immediate assistance.