August 31, 2021
Dear UT Community,
Mental health is one of the most challenging issues facing society at large and our university community in particular. We’ve all been touched by it in some way as individuals, but we don’t have to deal with it alone. As UT’s own Hogg Foundation articulates in its vision statement, The people of Texas thrive in communities that support mental health and well-being.
Here at UT, we strive to provide the resources our community needs to thrive. Last year, we added 10 counselors in the Counseling and Mental Health Center, in addition to hiring our first-ever campus mindfulness coordinator and a peer support coordinator. We also made permanent two additional mental health counselors who specialize in outreach to historically underserved communities, and I created a new position of Deputy to the President for Societal Challenges and Opportunities. Professor Allan Cole is serving in that role, and he’s taking on mental health as one of his top three priorities as we bring our campus’s expertise to bear on tough issues. These efforts build on great work that is still underway, such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which provides counseling to benefits-eligible employees and promotes wellness in a number of ways.
Today, I’m pleased to announce a new pilot program launching this fall that will see mental health professionals join our specially trained law enforcement officers in the UT Police Department when they respond to members of our community experiencing a mental health crisis. We’re calling it MHART — the Mental Health Assistance and Response Team.
UTPD increasingly responds to calls related to mental health concerns. In such situations, officers have to quickly make complex decisions about how to care for people in crisis who might put themselves or others at risk. MHART means that such situations will now be dealt with jointly — by both a trained mental health professional and a police officer — where decisions about care and safety will be made together. Similar programs have been rolled out in cities and counties across the country, but UT Austin is one of the first universities to implement a program of this kind.
The creation of MHART is about our desire to support our community, enhance de-escalation practices, and provide the best care to those in crisis. It’s also a story of teamwork. MHART was developed in collaboration with staff members at the Counseling and Mental Health Center, the Employee Assistance Program, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Victims Advocate Network, and UTPD. Leaders from Student Government, Senate of College Councils, Graduate Student Assembly, Black Graduate Student Association, Police Oversight Committee, Black President’s Leadership Council, Student Services Budget Committee, African and African Diaspora Studies, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, and the Diverse Welcoming Campus Steering Committee also contributed to the process. These overly long sentences are a testament to the amazing work of MANY talented and passionate Longhorns!
As academics, we understand that the subjects we study are never siloed or sealed from one another. How we respond to mental health crises in society is a complex issue that intersects with many others. But just as issues intersect, so do solutions. MHART will enable the university to take an approach to mental health emergencies that can reduce the overall sense of distress that people in crisis experience. And I believe it will build an even stronger sense of trust as students, staff, faculty, UTPD and mental health professionals work together for the safety and wellbeing of our community.
I look forward to seeing the results of this innovative program, even as we continue to learn how to deliver on the vision we share with the Hogg Foundation — a vision that would enable our campus to be a community where even more can thrive.
Take care, and Hook ‘em!