Petition Demanding Penn Mental Health Reform Approaching 5,000 Signatures

Amy Gutmann has vowed to reconvene Penn's mental health task force in the wake of the school’s latest student suicide.

On April 11th, Penn junior Ao “Olivia” Kong was killed by an oncoming SEPTA train near 40th Street Station. The death was later ruled a suicide. Now, a week-old petition imploring university officials to address the problems plaguing the school’s mental health resources has garnered nearly 5,000 signatures.

Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price released a statement addressing the community’s concerns and providing updates on the steps the school is taking to ramp up its mental health resources. Gutmann has called for the school’s Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare to reconvene — it completed a year-long study on the subject in 2015 following several high-profile suicides at the school. The school had vowed to fight a culture of “destructive perfectionism.”

“We have asked the chairs of the Task Force, Anthony Rostain and Rebecca Bushnell, to immediately reconvene the Task Force to determine as expeditiously as possible what additional steps can be taken to help ensure the health and well-being of our students,” Gutmann and Price’s statement reads. The school has extended the hours of its counseling service (CAPS) in the wake of Kong’s death, but some Penn students have expressed extreme discontent with the school’s ability to treat students effectively. 

The most notable of the complaints about Penn’s counseling service are the long wait times for appointments and short-term counselors who leave the school after establishing a relationship with patients. Both the petition and a viral Facebook post from another Penn student demand that the school address these and other issues.

The petition makes six requests of the school, including the increased allocation of resources for CAPS and mental health awareness training for resident assistants.

Junior Claudia Stedman told Billy Penn that perhaps the school doesn’t quite understand the issues that students have with its processes for addressing mental health issues. “Every single time something like this happens, they say ‘Go to CAPS, we’ve extended CAPS hours,’” Stedman said. “Speaking with students and teachers that have actually sat on that task force or utilized CAPS themselves, a lot of them are frustrated because they feel like the administration is saying there’s this great service, but they themselves don’t think that it’s a great service.”

Gutmann and Price’s statement announced that CAPS’ hours will be extended in the evenings and on weekends.

Students attended a candlelight vigil for Kong last week.

Follow @BrettMKlein on Twitter.

For confidential support if you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Learn about the warning signs of suicide at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.