Macalester College mental health

Dear parents , we were notified 2 weeks ago of another student suicide at Macalester College. This is the 3rd suicide in 3 years at Mac. There are only 2500 students at MAC. I have been waiting to say something until my son graduates but I can no longer hold back. I do not recommend this school. Do not send your child to this school. They do not apply their resources to student well being. They do not make an effort to build community or maintain community especially after freshman year. All 3 of these students were sophomores living In The dorms at Macalester. Can you tell me that at such a small school no professer , or advisor , or RA could not recognize the warning signs of anxiety and depression in these students? After discussing these cases with my son and his friends I am not surprised. Tuition is up to $59,000 this year and many of them say their advisors and professors are too busy to meet with them. They have almost no close connections with anyone they are being taught by. Are these young adults already anxious and depressed when we send them or does the school create this atmosphere and do nothing about it except crisis counseling after the fact. My son had his computer and backpack stolen out of his second floor dorm room as a sophomore by 2 men , not students, wandering the halls looking for unlocked rooms. He was down the hall visiting a friend. . I drove to MN to discuss the robbery with the head of security. His only answer was that he should have locked his room if he was down the hall. Nothing has been done to improve security since then. Even though he lost almost a whole semester of notes and notebooks they did nothing to help with the distress that this robbery caused for our family. Let me say again, he was living in a dorm, not off campus! The dean of students offered to lend him a laptop for a week so he could write his papers but after 3 days said they needed the laptop back. I can’t tell you if other schools are better. But we expected more from resident life, from administration, and from professors. I would not recommend Macalester College for the >$200,000 we have paid them.

Do you think there are overarching problems on campus? I know you’ve touched on some problematic issues. Could you expand or add to your thoughts? Do you think any of these are factors in student depression or dissatisfaction at least?

  • Intense academic environment/ Heavy workload
  • Minnesota winters / Lack of positive social interaction (stress relief)
  • Strict administration regarding policies and outward appearances
  • Nice area but still an urban campus / Lacks physical buffers from outside world

@Macalestermom The recent suicide of a Mac sophomore was a terrible tragedy. Without knowing the student or the circumstances, it is impossible to know if this student showed signs of being suicidal, and if he did, whether anyone reached out to help him. Assuming that no one did, just because of the terrible outcome, is wrong. I’m a psychotherapist and the sad truth is that sometimes even the best support and help from others cannot prevent such a tragedy. My heart goes out to his family and I hope they will be able to find some comfort and peace.

I am surprised by the picture you said your son and his friends paint of Mac being a cold, lonely place, as my daughter’s experience, and mine as her parent, has been quite the opposite. In our experience, her professors and advisor have not only been available when she seeks them out, but they even reach out to her themselves for various reasons. My daughter’s advisor invited the class to his home for dinner during the fall semester, then invited students who could not go home for Thanksgiving to come join his family for the holiday. Although my daughter no longer takes a class with him, he will reach out to her to share things he thinks will interest her. He sent her an email after her favorite film composer won an Oscar just because he knew she would be excited about it. Her other professors are happy to meet with her simply to talk more about a topic she found intriguing in class. They will stop and chat with her when they see her in or off campus. They create warm, open environments in their classrooms that encourage students to express themselves. They come to see their students perform in plays and concerts and poetry readings.

She has found the student community to be extremely friendly and welcoming as well. She has made close friends but always seems to bring up names of other friends that her dad and I haven’t heard of before, because it’s not uncommon for a casual acquaintance to suddenly invite her to do something. She also finds that groups she does not know well will welcome her if she shows an interest; for example, she took a risk and performed at a poetry slam on a whim and the other performers were very welcoming and encouraging. She finds that students are pretty open and non-judgmental and accept you for who you are.

Nobody can say why certain tragedies happen, or why there may have been a few in a relatively short period of time. But it seems wrong to blame the school for these. Correlation does not imply causation. It appears you just joined CC yesterday just to express your negative opinion of Macalester due to an unfortunate theft of your son’s belongings and this recent tragedy. You are certainly entitled to your opinions and of course no school is the right fit for everyone, and perhaps your son and his friends should transfer if they are this unhappy. But to call Mac a terrible school overall and to imply that the administration and faculty do not care about the students is the complete opposite of many others’ experiences.

To be clear I posted my experiences and opinions about Mac after eating dinner with my son and 4 of his friends last night on Spring Break. The theft of my son’s belongings happened a year ago but I was moved by the things these young men had to say about suicide, depression , community , crime and the school’s responses to these. I did not realize that this site was for posting only positive experiences although it was nice to hear that your daughter has not experienced these things. My son and his friends are not transferring like you suggested but they are all graduating in May. As a psychotherapist I am sure you did not mean to try and debate or negate the experience they have had and leave all of us to form our own opinions. If people only want the positive experiences they should read the brochures or take the tour. The school did not tell us this at orientation but after the theft they told us that we should have gotten renters insurance and that our student should lock his dorm room at all times even if they are just in the shower, because there are many thefts in the dorms. I cannot give you the number because the head of security could not tell me. I think the school should take a hard look at the number of students that have committed suicide and do whatever it can to address these issues before it happens again. But again, I am glad that your daughter has not been touched by any of these issues. Also I did not say the school is cold and lonely as you inferred. I just said that based on our experiences we would not recommend it. But I guess we will agree to disagree.

I am very sorry to hear about your son’s experience.

My sophmore is one of those students who feels isolated at Macalester. However, her experience with both her professors and mental health on campus has not been the same as your son’s and his friends. I am not trying to cast doubt on their experience. Just trying to show another side to others who may be reading this and thinking about applying.

The best thing about Macalster for my daughter has been the easy access to profs, very similar to IBviolamom’s child. She mostly takes classes in the Humanities, which are small, so this may be part of it. But even in her science class with over 50 students, she was easily able to make appointments with the professor. Which she definitely needed since she is not a science person! Because of the availability of the professor, she was able to get a good grade in a subject that she failed in high school!

The school also treats its adjuncts better than most. As colleges increasingly rely on very, very low paid adjuncts (many at our local college are eligible for EBT), these teachers are becoming difficult for students to connect with because they are running from job to job and sometimes don’t even have offices on campus. That is not the case, for the most part, at Macalester.

There are counselors, wellness programs, and group therapy available at Macalester. My child has taken advantage of all of them, and has found them to be very solid. Are there enough? Probably not. But that is an issue throughout the country. Mental health needs among young people have seemed to increase exponentially in recent decades. All schools are scrambling and trying to figure out how to deal with this. There are not enough skilled therapists for children and young adults. Even in NYC with patients who are willing to self-pay, the waiting list can be months long. It is a very frustrating situation. I try to encourage promising young people to go into this field because the need is so great.

I am not sure about your stat about 3 suicides in years at Mac. My child was at the school last year, and she has not heard of a suicide that year. If it is 3 suicides in 4 years, that is also bad, and something the school should look into. I was not aware of this at all, and am concerned now that I read your comment.

Sounds like Mac security needs to keep better records and be more transparent. Again, I don’t think the theft problem is larger there than on other campuses. I work with many colleges, and laptop theft is a daily occurrence at all of them, even those in remote locations. It does sound as though Macalester needs to do a better job at talking to students about not letting unknown people in the dorms, teaching them to lock their computers, etc. One of our local university has safety reminders, including those for students living off campus, posted all over campus. I hope someone on Macalester staff is reading this and can convey the message.

I’m so sorry to hear about a suicide this year at Macalester. My heart goes out to the friends and family affected by this tragedy. I have a daughter (not a Mac student) who struggles with severe depression, and this is always a scary subject for me. My son, a junior at Mac, often experiences anxiety and stress at college, but I think that is more a reflection of his own issues and societal pressures. Also, like a lot of Mac students, he maybe has too much on his plate: job, volunteering, extra-curriculars, double major, study abroad. He tried, once, to get a counseling appointment at the Health & Wellness Center, and they were booked. So that is a problem. Being in a city though made it easy for him to find a therapist near campus who took the school’s insurance, and that has made a big difference. Mac also offers mindfulness classes, yoga, therapy dogs, walks, midnight breakfast during finals, and other things to mitigate the students’ stress, but they can’t make students take advantage of those opportunities.

I’m also sorry that @macalestermom’s son has not had the best experience at Mac. I don’t want to negate what she had to say, but want to offer some balance for students considering Mac. My son has felt connected there from day one. He is very social though, and makes friends easily. His favorite thing about Macalester is the professors. They have gone out of their way to offer him their time, friendship, support, recommendations and amazing opportunities both on and off campus. He hasn’t had any problems with theft. He even left his dorm room unlocked for weeks when he lost his key and had no problems, but that was just lucky I think. It is an urban area, and the kids need to be careful. That said, the neighborhood is wonderful and physically safe and he loves it (and we love visiting!) At parent orientation, the dean of students did recommend that we buy renters insurance (we didn’t), but I know not all parents are able to attend.

Macalester has been transformative for my son. He has matured, found his passions, made life-long friends, fallen in love with the Twin Cities, and given back to the community. But it isn’t perfect. Being the parent of a mentally ill child, I know that the causes of suicide are complicated, and it is hard to know what happened in each case. I hope the administration is looking into what they can do to help students feel safe reaching out for help and how to make that help more easily accessible.

It’s hard to hear about “M.” Unfortunately all these colleges don’t have enough Behavioral Health services that kids desperately need. My own student came home at the holiday break and needed a psych eval and I couldn’t get one fast enough in our community. Eventually, I called Student Services at her LAC and they returned my call only after they reopened after Christmas Break, sometime in mid-January about 4 - 5 weeks after my call. They told me if she called right now, her appointment would be in 2 - 3 weeks, if she waited a day to call, the wait time could be 4 - 6 weeks based on volume of calls expected.

They really need to have at least some first line walk-in service and triage ability. For her health needs, she was diagnosed with a chronic illness, and her student health Center (bought the school health insurance) discouraged her from getting seen whenever she called about resp problems that turned out to be flu. They told her not to come there, but to use off campus Urgent Care. We bought the insurance so she could get seen at the school. Lots of abrogating responsibility going on here. Not sure health services on college campuses will get any better any time soon.

@2dogs2kids

I do not believe that any Macalester students died of suicide last year, but there was one in March 2016.

My daughter is a junior at Mac, and we recently discussed a student opinion piece on Macalester’s “burnout culture” (in the sense of overwork) that ran in the Mac Weekly It struck both of us as true, and as a conversation the campus needs to have.

That said, Mac has been a transformative experience for her, and we’re all glad she’s there. From everything I know from her and other glimpses, the faculty and staff are generally outstanding humans, and I’m grateful for the direction they’ve provided her both academically and personally.

@2dogs2kids - I just discussed that article with my daughter yesterday. She said she doesn’t experience “burnout culture” there overall, and the school tries to dissuade students from this, but that there is a definite subset of students that approach school this way, and all students will encounter it. She did say that one of her professors said that she wished the school would promote January experiences abroad more than it does so students wouldn’t feel as pressured to do a semester abroad. Prof said many students get lonely and homesick during semester abroad, and she wishes the school would acknowledge that more so students wouldn’t be so taken aback by that/feel there is something wrong with them when study abroad is difficult for them.

We also talked about the accessibility of professors, and she said, if anything, the profs are TOO accessible. :slight_smile: They are often asking you how your projects are going and may know more about you than you might like. Even in her bigger classes and her science classes she was able to get appointments with her professors on short notice. In all her classes since she arrived at Macalester, she has met with the prof multiple times and has received lots of guidance from them. She has also received guidance from the school chaplain, the Center for Civic Engagement, and the Wellness Center. The latter is needed for more personal guidance as professors mainly deal with academics.

I think the mental health and burnout issue is real, but I am extremely surprised at the students who say the faculty and staff are difficult to get ahold of and meet with. My sense was the complete opposite, which is why I asked my daughter again. She confirmed that the faculty have been very available in her experience.

I am a fourth-year student at Macalester College. I have no choice but to be here for at the very least one more year because of everything that has happened during my time as a student. I have no money to transfer. I want to transfer. I feel trapped here. I do not feel safe at Macalester and with each step I made to ensure my safety, the school has opposed, blatantly disregarded, or outright ignored my pleas. I have been lied to by the administration, residential life, and Title IX office repeatedly. I have been physically assaulted, stalked, harassed, slandered, and excommunicated by my “fellow peers.” I reported all this to the school, and for three years, nothing happened.

Please allow me to explain in more detail. I’m sorry for the length, and if you just want to read the point to all this, skip to the asterix at the end.

 For some background, I came to Mac from a high-strung college preparatory school. I was always astounded that for the 90 odd people in my class (and under 400 in my high school) we only had one wellness counselor. I had dealt with unrecognized and undiagnosed depression and anxiety from a young age and was coping quite well throughout my high school career, especially considering the workload. Needless to say, college is not academically hard for me, not in the slightest; because I was prepared for it.
 I will also admit 'making friends' as the freshman call it was difficult for me. I had spent most of my life at the same high school I graduated from and was comfortable with the small band of friends I had grown up with. I arrived as a first-year prepared for this challenge, or so I thought. 
 I joined lots of student organizations, found my academic passion, and became a part of a rather large group of friends. But as the first semester ended, I watched as one person was singled out as "anxiety-inducing" after which she was promptly bullied and ostracized, eventually being ejected from our group. I was hesitant to speak out against this because I feared I would be the next victim of their systematic social exile. 
 I was never mean to this girl. I never spoke ill of her. But I also never stood up for her. I never spoke against her aggressors, the people that I, at the time, considered my closest friends. 

A year later, the 2016 election shook Macalester’s campus. No one was left unaffected, and I was no different.

 I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation within the week and I came back to campus after a weekend away. As I worked to complete my third semester, I began to worry I was the next target for gossip. I tossed these thoughts aside, reasoning them to be intrusive anxiety and nowhere close to the truth. 
 Returning in the spring, however, this fact became painfully apparent to me. Early February, my partner and I split after nearly a two-year relationship, and I reached out to my 'friends' for support. I was ignored and brushed off before being told I too was "anxiety-inducing." I reached out to other friends in our large group, but to no avail. They all responded in the exact same manner. That night, I was again taken to the hospital for suicidality. 
 They only kept me for a night. I returned to Macalester to find not only did my peers not talk to me, but did not acknowledge my presence in the slightest. It was like in a night, I had ceased to exist.
 I was alone. I knew no one to confide in. I had no one so much as look at me, even my roommate pretended I wasn't there. I was offered no anchor by the school. I had no resources: no counseling number, no available psychologists at health and wellness, and no hand or advice from residential life in any way. 
 By weeks end, I went to the hospital again. For the exact same reason. I was held there for a week to recover.

 After my three hospital visits, residential life and administrators insisted on meeting with me. At first, I thought this meant I would get help, that I would be given resources and kept safe. I was wrong. All they wanted was to tell me not to speak to anyone I knew and for me not to "threaten suicide" again. I was told should I do either of these things, I would be thrown out of Macalester. My mother, who had to take off work to fly across the country to support me, fought for my safety and a plan for my wellbeing. The only response we had was assurance that they were not to speak to me either; the same rules for both parties.
 Soon after my return to classes, I was assaulted by these students. They came into my room without my knowledge and without my consent. They pulled me out of fetal position, and when I retracted back into a curl, they violently pried my body to be exposed to them. They only left when I repeatedly said they had no right to be there and to get out. 

I reported my assault to residential life the next day. Nothing was done.

 In the following weeks, I was stalked, physically intimidated out of campus spaces, harassed, publically humiliated, and slandered to the point where not only could I not introduce myself to new peers because they already 'knew all about me,' but I ended up being homeless for a month because no one would live with me, and I was too poor to rent my own place. I was made to be a monster.
 Completing that semester was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I ended up medically withdrawing from two classes. I'm lucky to be in a small, forward-thinking department, so I was able to have an honest conversation with my professors, who both offered the first help Macalester had given me. The administration to this day has these classes written as failed, and with that, my GPA was ruined with no hope of transfer. 

Then Macalester told me I was suspended because AS PER OFFICIAL SCHOOL POLICY, MACALESTER CAN SUSPEND YOU IF YOU ARE DETERMINED TO BE SUICIDAL.

I fought every step of the way to return to school. Even with undeniable evidence of my massive support network, a great job, and new, supportive group of friends, as well as with the proper diagnosis, medication, and therapy treatment for me, the administration did not want me to come back to Macalester.
Immediately after I did, however, I began coordinating with Title IX to reestablish the No Contact Order that I had been threatened with the semester of my hospitalizations. I turned in a 10-page document detailing my harassment, stalking, and assaults. They did not grant it to me. I was told by the Title IX coordinator after he met with my attacker that ‘she isn’t interested in you’ and did not believe a word I said.
The harassment continued for two years before my evidence was considered valid enough for a No Contact Order to be established. Nearly three years later, and I still am followed by people’s stares, groups pointing, and sneers.


Macalester does not care about the welfare of its students. They just built a $60 million dollar theater building when they still had one part-time employee working at disabilities services. They remodel our Health and Wellness Center every year for the past three years to make it look like things are better but only have 6 therapists for 2,500 kids, all of whom are seriously struggling with the nation and world we now face. Tuition is now over $60 thousand dollars a year but they still only give us one psychiatrist every other Wednesday along with a red business card for their suicide hotline.

I’ve called that hotline. Many times. They made me feel so terrible I have hung up every time. They have never called me back.

If I have learned one thing about Macalester in my time here, it is that there are two courses of action the administration considers when a student is struggling with suicidal thoughts; they kick you out or let you kill yourself.

Wow Jharris. I’m so sorry to hear what you have been going through. Hopefully your family can be a source of support. Good luck with graduating next year.