SGB holds mental health town hall with Panzella, Darr


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Dr. Jay Darr, the director of the University Counseling Center, spoke at a Student Government Board town hall on Tuesday evening for Mental Health Awareness Month.

By Kiera Ledermann, Staff Writer

Pitt’s Student Government Board wore matching green Mental Health Awareness Month shirts to Tuesday evening’s public meeting. Lily Schneider said the shirts help raise awareness for mental health — the focus of the night.

“It’s so important that we make room for sharing our experiences and our stories to remind each other that we’re not alone in our struggles with mental health,” Schneider, the chair of SGB’s wellness committee, said. “Just by looking around this room, we’re able to see how many people are ready to talk about mental health.”

SGB hosted Dean of Students Carla Panzella and Dr. Jay Darr, director of the University Counseling Center, for a Q&A town hall for Mental Health Awareness Month, where they discussed counseling on campus and mental health resources for minority students, among other topics. Schneider and Danielle Floyd, the board’s vice president of initiatives, organized and moderated the discussion.

Panzella, who joined the town hall on Zoom from Massachusetts, said she is keeping an eye on student mental health as Pitt transitions into a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think that mental health is one of those topics that really we have to look at the whole student, and all the areas that impact the students,” Panzella said. “We’re at a portion of the pandemic and thinking about ways that we can help support students as they transition back to school.”

Darr then answered questions from the audience about ways to engage with the UCC and what students can expect when contacting them.

One way to engage with the UCC, Darr said, is through the “Let’s Talk” program, which is a 15-minute informal, confidential consultation in which students can meet and talk with a clinician.

“If you’re sort of saying, I don’t really know what this counseling thing is, I’m not really sure what I have problems with, or just want to talk to somebody briefly, ‘Let’s Talk’ sessions are the best way to do that,” Darr said. “It’s not a substitute for therapy.”

For students interested in therapy or other services at the UCC, Darr encourages them to call the UCC, which offers drop-In services Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Students will then complete paperwork online before they meet with a clinician and develop a personalized care plan.

One student asked about what the UCC is doing to support the mental health of LGBTQ+ students and students of color.

In response, Darr said about 35% of the UCC clinicians, 36% of trainees and 55% of new hires are people of color, and five clinicians identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Darr also said the UCC offers therapy in Spanish, English, Hindi and Romanian.

Panzella also said the Student Affairs Racial Justice, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan — which was developed in 2020 to increase equity at Pitt, in response to demands from many Black student organizations — includes plans to increase the UCC’s clinician capacity to match the percentage of Black students on campus. Panzella said it also includes plans to develop a Post-Master’s Fellowship program for up to four clinicians of color.

Another student shared an experience when his friend had a mental health crisis but was hesitant to contact the UCC out of a fear of police involvement.
“How do we prevent that perception from preventing people from getting the help they need?” the student asked. “I couldn’t tell you if that was necessary for their situation, but the fact that it stopped them from reaching out for help was pretty soul-crushing to me.”

Darr said Pitt is preparing to launch a pilot program called the Higher Education Assessment and Response Team, which will be made up of two Pitt and two Carnegie Mellon University clinicians who will work together to respond to welfare checks and assess whether transportation is necessary. 

“Our goal is not to have somebody transported to a hospital,” Darr said. “We want to be able to support you in the moment, we want to show that you’re safe and supported.” 

Darr closed the town hall by encouraging students to reach out to the Counseling Center at 412-648-7930 and utilize Thrive @ Pitt, a website with student-focused resources to help improve their physical, financial and social well-being. He also reminded students that they aren’t alone.

“I want everybody to know that you’re not alone. We have an entire campus that’s here to support your well-being and help you thrive,” Darr said.


The allocations committee reviewed five requests for a total of $10,905. The committee approved a total of $5,982.53. Of the five requests, one required board approval. The board approved a total of $3,983.98.

Chem-E Car requested $4,354.29 to fund lodging, airfare and registration for a competition this year. The board approved $3,983.98.