OPINION: Parking garage fences aren’t the answer

Rather than putting up new fencing, USF should focus on improving mental health care for students. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

Following the Sept. 16 death of a USF student at the Beard parking garage, USF Chief Health Officer Donna Petersen announced in an email that fences would be put up around the upper levels of parking garages across campus.

While it is great that USF is acknowledging the tragedy, a few fences are not going to solve the problem. Instead, this money should be put toward improving the Counseling Center and other mental health resources.

Many USF students have shown their support for the new fences by signing petitions. One started by USF student Victoria Abernathy on change.org got 462 signatures. 

“Suicide is a very serious matter that needs to be addressed in the correct ways and proper resources need to be provided for those on USF campus who need support,” Abernathy said. 

It is true that suicide is a very real problem on college campuses. Of 54,497 students surveyed, over 14% of college students had seriously considered suicide and 2.3% had attempted it in the last year, according to the spring 2019 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment

At USF, there have been three on-campus suicides since 2019, according to University Police public records obtained by The Oracle.

These students, and others who are struggling with their mental health, need support. New fencing is not going to provide that. 

The estimated cost of these fences is $220,000, according to a 2016 report by the International Parking Institute. This money could go a long way in improving the school’s more practical mental health resources like the Counseling Center. 

Recently, there have been a few student complaints regarding the Counseling Center and the services they provide. Students were upset they were not able to schedule appointments as quickly or as frequently as they would like, and some felt this made it difficult to get the help they needed, as described in an Oct. 6 Oracle column

While the center has helped many students, it seems apparent that some are falling through the cracks. This money could help the Counseling Center keep these complaints to a minimum by ensuring they have enough resources and staff to give the best possible care to students. 

The Counseling Center currently has an annual budget of nearly $3 million, according to USF’s 2020-21 Operating Budget. This extra funding could go toward hiring more counselors to make is easier for students considering suicide to quickly and easily get the professional help that they need. 

In the wake of this incident, USF has made a few improvements to mental health care across campus. 

TimelyCare has been added to the list of mental health services offered by the university. This digital platform offers 24/7 on-demand care and is completely free for students.

This was a step in the right direction, and USF should continue to add and improve resources like these instead of simply putting up fences.

“Being a great university isn’t just about academic and research excellence. It’s also about creating an environment where everyone can thrive,” Petersen said. “We are committed to providing this environment and will continue to implement new measures to support the health and wellness of our students, faculty and staff across all campuses.”

Fences are expensive and will do little to actually create and foster such an environment at USF. Pouring that money into bettering the university’s mental health services will help solve the root of this problem.

Suicide is tragic and preventable. By making it easier for students to get the help they need, USF can keep this from happening again.