Dear Provost Agouris,
My name is Aidan White, and I am a member of the College of William and Mary class of 2023. I was the student who came to your open office hours on Thursday, April 1, where I expressed my concern that the administration’s failure to adequately address mental health concerns coupled with the increased stress of this semester could lead to students engaging in self-harm. You responded, “Give me a break.” When I publicized this comment, you told The Flat Hat that you were being taken out of context. “Context is very critical here,” you said.
I agree that the context is critical. Here is the context.
The context is that our school has a tragic and painfully recent history of student self-harm and suicide. Since 2010, eight College students have taken their own lives, including four in 2015 alone. When I was going through the application process in 2019, I remember being told that the College is a “suicide school” and even “the suicide capital of Virginia.”
The context is that the school continuously fails to address this crisis. At an open mic event on Friday night, we heard stories from multiple students who sought help from Student Accessibility Services but were met with callous indifference. At your office hours on Thursday, one of the other students on the call shared that their friend had been waiting for an appointment to address their mental health at the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center for three months. Rather than helping this student find other resources for their friend, Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06 said that was just a rumor.
The context is that we the students have been saying for months that expanding pass/fail options this semester would have a positive impact on our mental health. We made that clear at the open mic on Friday, we made that clear at the protest on March 26, and we made it clear in the Student Assembly referendum last week where 89% of voters supported expanding pass/fail.
The context is that you have consistently ignored these cries for help. Even after over 2,000 people signed a petition for expanding pass/fail, even after more than 1,400 current students signed the petition that triggered the SA referendum, and before we could even vote in that referendum, you made it clear that you would not expand pass/fail options this semester. You have claimed that this decision was made based on faculty support, but a group of my peers and I have emailed every single professor at this institution over the last week, and every reply we have received has been supportive of expanding pass/fail. In fact, the entire music department sent you a letter on Friday requesting that you expand pass/fail.
The context is that at your office hours on Thursday, I said that student mental health should be at the forefront of administrative decision-making. You asked me what I was so worried about. I told you, “I’m worried my friends are going to kill themselves.”
You told me, “Give me a break.”
The context is that I have a platform of about 200 Twitter followers, while you have the power to put an email in the inboxes of nearly 10,000 undergrads, graduate students and faculty members at the push of a button. When I tried to use my comparatively small platform to spread the word about your insensitive remark, you sent an email to every single one of my peers essentially calling me a liar.
The context is that I am a student of the College of William and Mary, where I am bound by an Honor Code that I pledged to uphold on my first day living on this campus. Multiple students who were also at your office hours and who also took that pledge have publicly corroborated my side of the story.
Madam Provost, there are only two ways that the university can begin to move on from the apathy you showed at your office hours. Either you can expand pass/fail, or you can resign. I will not accept any apology that is not accompanied by at least one of those things, and my fellow students should not accept any such apology either.
Aidan White ’23 is a public policy major and a sociology minor. He is involved in Shakespeare in the Dark and the William & Mary Mock Trial Team, and is also a member of the Young Democratic Socialists and the Sinfonicron Light Opera Company. Email Aidan at email@example.com.