According to a JED Foundation Survey published October 22, 2020, eighty-two percent of college students deal with anxiety, sixty-eight percent with depression, and one in five (nineteen percent) of students have had suicidal thoughts in the past month. In bold print, the report asserts, “Mental health should be a top priority for schools.” I have spent the past seven years advocating at the University of Hawai`i-Mānoa for better campus mental-health services. If you read recent press releases from UHM, you would think these services had improved dramatically. But if you pay closer attention, you will hear the hollowness of the language of care. In fact, even as the rhetoric improves, the level of care diminishes.
Thus begins my essay, “The Language of Care in (My) Neo-liberal University,” which is based on a talk I gave at the recent Webinar Colloquium, “Poetics and the University in Crisis” (March 3-5, 2021). My argument—based on many years of activism at the University of Hawai`i-Mānoa (UHM)—was that the university, in its response to demands for better mental health care, gave only the semblance of actually caring. Communicating a public message of ‘care’ fulfills the university’s public relations priorities while downplaying its unwillingness to spend the money that would be needed to strengthen the Counseling and Student Development Center. It was one more sign, sad to say, of the university’s overall unwillingness to revive the notion of the university as a community of care.