Thousands raised for mental health support fundBy Bennett Stansell | 11/01/2017 10:49pm
In recent years, mental health has been a polarizing topic on The University of Alabama’s campus, with students calling for increased awareness and funding. Although numerous effective initiatives have been established to abolish the stigma surrounding mental health, increased funding for mental health resources has remained scarce.
Mental health funding was a focal point of last year’s SGA presidential race, and a key tenant of eventual President Jared Hunter’s platform was a promise that he would raise money to help solve the issue. In an effort to follow through on his word, Hunter has spearheaded the creation of the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. fund.
The R.E.S.P.E.C.T. fund, which stands for Reaching Every Student Possible Ensuring Care and Treatment, is a fund established through the University’s Division of Advancement. It will serve as a monetary resource for mental health and wellness oriented services and organizations on campus for years to come.
When Hunter, a senior majoring in political science, initially came up with the idea for the fund shortly after his election, he contacted Justin Silver, a senior management major and president of the Interfraternity Council. He also spoke with Everette Dawkins, president of the Alabama Panhellenic Association who is pursuing a Master's of Business Administration, to gauge both organizations' interest in potentially donating to the fund. Both Silver and Dawkins were keen on the idea of contributing.
“With mental health being such a prominent issue on campuses across the country, the IFC would like to be a direct influencer on assuring that every student has access to proper care for their mental health and well-being,” Silver said.
Even though the fund is still awaiting official approval from the Alabama Board of Trustees, it already contains $75,000 donated by the IFC and the Alabama Panhellenic Association. The IFC contributed $50,000 and the other $25,000 came from Alabama Panhellenic.
Dawkins, believes the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. fund is a substantial step in transforming the University into a national leader for mental health awareness and services.
“I think mental health awareness is a huge key to college campuses all over the country, and The University of Alabama should definitely be a leader on that front,” Dawkins said. “Yes, signing a pledge is a good way to show that you’re behind something, but giving the funding when you have it to opportunities like this is a really good way to step up to the plate and show how much you care.”
The fund was originally intended to solely benefit the Counseling Center, however, its use was expanded to encompass any health or well-being service on campus after Hunter met over the summer with Silver, Dawkins and Ruperto Perez, the newly-minted associate VP for student health and wellbeing.
“The more we talked about it, the more we realized that having a fund strictly for the counseling center was a great idea, but ultimately it would not solve all of the issues because it would back us into a corner,” Hunter said. “In two or three years down the road I don’t know what the main issue could be. If there’s another issue in the future that arises, the fund could be used to fix that as well.”
In order to determine where the fund’s money will go each year, a board of advisors will be established for the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. fund. The board is set to be composed of representatives from SGA, IFC, Alabama Panhellenic, two other SOURCE-registered organizations that have yet to be determined, and a few faculty sponsors.
Hunter has established a goal of $100,000 annually for the fund, culminating in $1 million total raised after 10 years. Once the fund is officially approved by the Alabama Board of Trustees, which could occur by mid-November, any student organization or individual who feels compelled to donate will be able to. Eventually Hunter plans on having a digital icon added to the University of Alabama’s website, as well as the website of any organization that has previously donated, that will provide a link for others to donate from.
Perez said the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. fund is an enterprise that few college campuses have undergone.
“There are only a handful of universities at which students have been involved in raising money to try to support mental health and other aspects of health on campus,” Perez said. “I think this is a really unique initiative and it has great potential to succeed and continue beyond now.”
Though Hunter will not be around to witness the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. fund’s effects over the coming decade, he is proud of what he and others have started.
“I’m really excited that we had the opportunity to work with so many different people on something that will benefit all of campus,” Hunter said. “As of right now, it’s pretty small, but it’s definitely a great start. In ten years, a million dollars will have been accumulated in the fund, and because it’s no longer strictly in the counseling center, that money can go to more parts of campus where it is needed.”