Elections aren’t all about our student politicians adding you on Facebook and following you to classes: It’s also a time for students to vote on important issues. From April 7-9, students will have a chance to vote on the upcoming wellness referendum, which seeks to address multiple health and wellness issues, including keeping the Recreational Sports Facility open, increasing Tang Center medical hours and mental health services, and preventing sexual violence, among other dire needs. We hope students will choose to prioritize wellness and vote “yes” for the wellness referendum when they cast their ballot.
If passed, the funds gained from the referendum will extend drop-in hours at the Tang Center’s urgent care ward and its Counseling and Psychological Services, or CPS, on select weekdays and weekends. The referendum will create relaxation spaces on campus; offer stress-management and nutrition classes; and expand yoga, cardio and strength training spaces. It also provides for wellness programs for underserved groups, including students of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students; student-veterans; international students; and differently abled students. Additionally, the referendum renews existing fees that support the RSF. If the referendum doesn’t pass, the RSF will lose 40 percent of its operating budget, potentially cutting down hours and number of staff members, and hiking up the membership fee for students.
Students and staff advisers spent nearly a year researching the best solutions for leading wellness problems among students. Each aspect of this referendum went through a rigorous and cost-effective research process. Campuswide surveys were reviewed and administered, communities were consulted, and suggestions were incorporated. As a result, the services on the referendum are the result of student feedback. The referendum is entirely student run; if passed, it will be run by a student-majority committee, not the administration.
We students of UC Berkeley face intense pressure to succeed academically while balancing multiple commitments. About half of all students experience depressive symptoms while in college, and survey results show that a majority of UC Berkeley students report being stressed on a frequent basis, with most saying they would seek help, if possible. Yet CPS drop-in counseling at the Tang Center is available only from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays (during which most students have class) and is unavailable on weekends. The RSF and satellite workout rooms are frequently crowded, but there is no plan to expand cardio, yoga and multipurpose space across campus. Marginalized students do not enjoy a safe campus climate — yet we employ few counselors who come from and explicitly serve these communities. One out of five women and one out of 16 men will be sexually assaulted while in college — yet there is only one sexual assault advocate, and the process for reporting an assault remains lengthy and confusing, and survivors often receive little to no confidential mental health support.
While the referendum’s proposed $54 increase may seem large, we believe an investment in preventative wellness now saves much more down the road. To show this commitment, a small portion of the referendum funds will go toward fundraising efforts that will actively work to raise outside money so that we can keep student fees low (or, with any luck, decrease them).
A “yes” vote on the wellness referendum will renew about $85 worth of expiring fees that students already pay for RecSports facilities, such as the RSF. It will get rid of the annoying $10 RSF membership fee by incorporating a low flat rate into the referendum. So while the ballot indicates that the total is $146, the truth is that the figure combines the renewal of fees students already pay with potential increases for new wellness services. But the actual amount by which students can expect to see their fees increase would be $54 — or roughly $10 per month. Furthermore, one-third of the total fee goes back to the financial aid office to help offset costs for students in need. Students on the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan will not be affected by this fee increase.
Demand for mental health services continues to increase, but access to help remains limited. We cannot afford to wait for a higher power to hear our voices and find solutions while students continue to pay the price. We, as students, need to prioritize wellness and find immediate solutions. We cannot continue to present countless statistics regarding mental health and sexual assault while taking no further action. We support the passage of this referendum and urge students to do the same.
The wellness referendum is also endorsed by Madison Gordon, Dree Kavoussi, Melissa Hsu, Raffi Margossian, Nisa Dang, Sam Schooley, Meghna Grover, Meghan Warner, Omar Alonzo, Crystal Noel, Matt Grigorieff, Christine Ngyuen, Ariana Naaseh and Dax Kangas.
Deepika Dilip and Wyatt Anderson are directors of wellness for the office of ASUC Senator Madison Gordon.