Following concerns expressed by students, Dean of Students Zachary Irish and Director of Counseling & Health Services Valeria Tobia announced today that they plan to make the EverFi mental health module optional, rather than mandatory as first announced.
Students belonging to the senior, junior and sophomore class at Wheaton received an email last week with the subject line “Online Course Assigned to You by Wheaton College.” The email included a deadline of March 10, and said the module was required of all students. The email was sent from EverFi, an education technology company that creates modules to assess students in critical skills, with the module in question being focused on mental health.
Several students expressed deep discomfort after receiving the email, as it had not been preceded by communication from Wheaton administration and was automatically flagged as a possible scam by Gmail for many students. The lack of communication paired with the sporadic rollout had certain students believing that they had been singled out to receive the training, while others were upset by the fact that it was a requirement, given the potentially triggering content of the training videos.
Three students, SGA Accessibility Board Chair Mikaela Savarese ‘22, SGA President Aba Lypps ‘21 and SGA Accessibility Board First Year Representative and Active Minds Co-President Julianne Morse ‘24, collected and shared this information with Dean Zachary Irish and Valerie Tobia.
“I stressed that while the course material has been tested and was meant to provide a positive experience, we are all experiencing trauma from the pandemic, which heightens the stress response. I pointed out that the majority of the students that were having negative experiences expressed that they were also experiencing mental health concerns, so it was likely that these two factors were combining in for the negative course outcome,” said Savarese.
Savarese said that Morse was instrumental for the contextualization of the first-year experience with the module, while Lypps helped to frame the discussion around creating unique opportunities for students to learn mental wellness information in different ways that would fit the lived experiences of the students instead of a blanket course.
Savarese said that Irish and Tobia were “receptive and understanding,” and that they would be working with student groups like the accessibility board to comprehend the student perspective when they embarked on efforts for the improvement of student mental health.
In response to concerns about the module specifically, Dean Irish communicated today that the course would now be optional for upperclassmen. He still encouraged students to engage with the course, saying he hoped they would still benefit from the provided resources.