A mental health town hall held on January 3rd, 2021 has students wondering, “What was the point?”
In September of 2020, American High School ASB executives and GENup, a student-led social justice organization and student-activist coalition, held a student support circle giving a platform to students who have had issues on campus regarding discrimination, harassment, and bullying. In December of the same year, a handful of American High School students released a school-wide survey on mental health, garnering over 800 responses and attention from administration. These events led up to January 3rd, 2021, where GENup members, FUSD parents and alumni, and public officials including board members and trustees were able to hear mental health professionals, FUSD students and parents, and the public’s opinion on mental health in a virtual town hall.
Cynthia Hsu, an American High School senior who has personally felt the effect of mental strain in school, was left wondering as to why people had attended the town hall.
“I usually don’t participate in these afterschool things because I feel like they usually don’t help if the problems still aren’t fixed,” Hsu (12) reasons.
Many students share Hsu’s sentiment, and believe their attempts at advocating for their own mental health would be in vain. A student who chose to remain anonymous attributed this feeling of defeat and frustration not to the organizers of the town hall, but rather, to the public officials.
“I went to the town hall and got intensely frustrated. [The public officials] just complained about lacking funding [while] they reinstate SROs [and] it takes more money to implement them. So not only do we not have the money we could have used by defunding, but we lose money too [as] multiple schools are losing Title 1 funding (federal funds used to help meet the educational needs of students in California schools),” the student commented.
The organizers of the town hall, including Priya Talreja, an adult ally for GENup in the FUSD Alumni Association, were hard at work in educating the officials and the public in regards to the statistics relative to mental health. Talreja states that their main goals in the town hall were to educate the community including students, parents, and the stakeholders on mental health, and to present recommendations such as hiring more counselors, or specially targeted curriculums for certain issues needed in school. The hope was to start building support for a parcel tax (in California, parcel taxes are used to fund K–12 public education) to help fund these programs. In response to some of the criticism of the town hall, she urged that students and the community need to keep pushing for the change they desired.
“There’s definitely a concern that there’s always panels that don’t lead to anything, but I think because we have the advocacy behind it and we have people who really care about this issue who are willing to go to a board meeting, and [people going to the board meeting] is what caused [the board] to hold the study session. If we keep pressuring them, then we’ll have the agenda item.” explained Talreja.
The study session Talreja refers to is a board item that has been agendized to discuss what next steps would be taken to help students’ mental health. At the January 20th board meeting, Talreja and GENup hoped to have items agendized in regards to administration’s items which they could immediately implement versus those that would be a much longer fight. Alvin Lee, a senior at Mission San Jose high school, member of its charter of GENup, and host of the mental health town hall, also believed that the advocacy his organization was partaking in constituted more than just “performative activism.”
“The town hall is just the first step . . . the next steps are actually pushing the board to agendize it as a vote to actually move forward with creating our task forces [and] meeting with superintendents and district staff to actually make recommendations. The reason why the town hall was so necessary was because . . . the community has to be in agreement as to what the [action we take in regards to mental health] looks like.”
Bella Jiang, American High School’s ASB president and member of GENup also initially feared that the town hall would simply be seen as performative activism.
“A lot of it is now up to the Inclusion Task Force to do things with the conversation that [the town hall] stimulated. In terms of the town hall, I think it is important to question things whether they’re performative activism or not . . . I think just the intent of where this is coming from and the plans to continue and build off of this, they know this isn’t the end and this is just the first step. They really want to hold these public officials accountable. There’s still more for us to do.” says Jiang.
Since the events of the town hall, the members created a study session to discuss the next steps which administration, public officials, and trustees would be taking at the board meeting on January 20th in regards to bettering the mental health of FUSD students. In November of 2020, the FUSD school board voted to remove Student Resource Officers (SROs) and divert the funding toward mental health and equal justice initiatives. In the January 20th board meeting, however, it was ruled that SROs would indeed be coming back to campus. Board members cited the reasoning that “SROs and mental health are not mutually exclusive” and voted to reinstate SROs with no funding while students were in distance learning. Additionally, California’s State Assembly Member Alex Lee is hopefully set to speak on the floor during the month of February regarding the education budget, and what should be funneled towards the mental health of the students of Fremont Unified School District.
A link to the recorded town hall can be found here.