At its first meeting of the spring semester, the Commission on Graduate and Professional Studies and Policies (CGPSP) unanimously endorsed “Supporting Mental Health and Well-being for Graduate Students: A Statement of Principles and Commitments of Graduate Deans,” produced by the national Council of Graduate Schools supporting mental health and well-being of graduate students. Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen P. DePauw, a member of CGS, individually endorsed the statement as well.

CGPSP is charged with studying, formulating, and recommending to University Council policies and procedures concerning on- and off-campus graduate academic matters. 

The Council of Graduate Schools stated on its website that the document “is primarily a tool to guide actions that support graduate student mental health and well-being” on the signatories’ campuses. It includes a list of four principles and eight commitments focused on students’ mental health and includes measures for accountability as well.

“The mental health and wellness of graduate students is very important and I’m pleased that the Council of Graduate Schools has placed emphasis upon this critical aspect of the graduate student experience,” DePauw said.

The endorsement is the latest effort by the CGPSP to recognize the importance of and support measures to improve mental health and well-being for Virginia Tech’s graduate students across the university’s programs and campuses.

In June 2019, DePauw convened a working group to study graduate mental health. The charge, according to the September 2020 final report, was to recommend changes that would foster “mentally health living for our graduate students.”

DePauw asked the group to examine existing programs and policies, review those of other universities and to identify barriers, and to identify best practices aimed at achieving that goal. The novel coronavirus pandemic erupted during the task force’s efforts. In the introduction to its report, the task force noted that the pandemic was likely to “amplify the existing stressors identified already with respect to graduate students."

The final report included a list of recommendations, many of which the graduate school, and the university at large, have begun addressing. The CGS statement augments the task force recommendations. Mental health concerns also were noted in the Graduate Education Task Force report, completed in 2020.

“The mental health and graduate education reports provided excellent recommendations and we are making progress at Virginia Tech in our efforts to sustain a strong graduate community in which the focus is on thriving in graduate school,” DePauw said.

The university also convened a mental health task force to examine issues affecting students, staff, and faculty members. The group produced a report in 2019 and two of the major findings were that students had the perception that mental health resources were not as available to them and students and faculty did not feel equipped to identify mental health issues in others with the ability to refer them. The VT Better Together campaign aims to address the overall awareness of mental health on campus.