Toward a safer DLSU: Behind the new mental health, safe spaces policies

As part of DLSU’s efforts to build a safe and supportive community, the President’s Council approved policies last November 6 that would enforce Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Act, and Republic Act 11313 or the Safe Spaces Act, the result of over a year’s worth of lobbying from leaders in the University Student Government (USG), who, from the outset of their terms, have made plans to revise the University’s approach to nurturing safe spaces.

These new policies are both under the jurisdiction of the Lasallian Center for Inclusion, Diversity, and Well-being (LCIDW), a newly established unit under the Office of the Vice President for Lasallian Mission (OVPLM) that will be in charge of creating and executing programs and activities for the wider DLSU community.

Mental Health Act

The creation of a mental health task force was one of USG President Lance Dela Cruz’ first initiatives, the details of which he outlined as early as October 2019 in a press conference held days after the Legislative Assembly (LA) approved a resolution that created the said body. 

“The Mental Hental Task Force was essential in ensuring that we have first-aid student responders under the care of the Office of Counseling and Career Services (OCCS) while we lobbied for the passage of a comprehensive policy,” explains LA Majority Floor Leader and now-USG President-elect Maegan Ragudo, who had also authored the resolution.

Now approved at the University level, the new mental health policy warrants better mental health resources, such as providing psychologists to those in need, Ragudo notes. The guidelines also ensure the integration of mental health into the University’s general policies, directly affecting guidelines for employment, student admission, discipline formation, student retention, grievance, and performance evaluation.

USG Office of the President Chief Policy Adviser Marina Lim shares that they wanted to create a policy that would best accommodate students who suffer from conditions affecting their mental health.

She points out loopholes in DLSU’s previous guidelines that could push aside a student in need. “The previous rules were sort of not in favor of students, like the chances [that you’re] gonna fail all your classes, if you all of a sudden couldn’t attend, your professor wouldn’t be obliged to give you consideration for that.”

Safe Spaces Act

Aside from mental health, the USG had also proposed changes to the University’s policies against sexual harassment and discrimination. Lim recalls previous cases involving DLSU faculty members who received harassment complaints but never met any form of repercussion.

The LaSallian had previously covered a harassment case in 2005 involving a professor who was later expelled from the University. In 2019, the publication wrote about a viral Facebook post from an anonymous student who claimed that her professor humiliated her and her classmates. The LA initially acted on the incident, though nothing came about afterward.

Just a few months ago, Galilee Tan  (I, AB-SOC) shared her experiences of abuse and harassment at the hands of her ex-boyfriend who was a De La Salle-Santiago Zobel alumni and a current DLSU student. Tan filed a case under the Student Discipline Formation Office (SDFO), but she recounted at the time that no progress was made.

With the goal to improve DLSU’s Anti-Sexual Harassment and Discrimination policy, the Safe Spaces Act widens its scope to cover “not just the welfare of the students, but also the safety of our professors, administrators, and employees,” Ragudo elaborates. Lim mentions that they had also analyzed the implementing rules and regulations of the law as well as similar policies being enforced in other universities to clarify what acts constitute harassment and discrimination. Lim hopes this will provide more clarity when assessing cases.

For Ragudo, the ultimate accomplishment was for the University to recognize that there is a need to address gender-based harassment and discrimination. Harassment cases were previously handled by the SDFO, but the new policy hands this authority to the Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI), chaired by the head of the LCIDW, an important change that Dela Cruz says would ensure that a dedicated team will now handle these cases. 

He also points out that the members of the previous CODI—which was composed of the USG President, the Vice Chancellor for Academics, the Employee Association President, and the Association of Faculty and Educators of DLSU Inc. President—were all men. “I feel like we’re doing a disservice to this issue if we don’t fix it immediately,” he says about having a male-dominated board oversee cases predominantly affecting women. In response to this, CODI will primarily consist of women with diverse sexual orientations and gender identity.

A new office

Enforcing these new guidelines is the LCIDW, led by Dr. Estesa Xaris Que Legaspi, an associate professor from the Counseling and Educational Psychology Department (CEPD). The center will provide mechanisms and services meant to safeguard the well-being of the DLSU community and raise awareness about inclusivity and diversity, says Vice President for Lasallian Mission Fritzie De Vera. 

Legaspi also says that the creation of the office is in compliance with Commission on Higher Education Memorandum Order No. 9, or the Enhanced Policies and Guidelines on Student Affairs and Services. She also explains that in contrast with the OCCS, the LCIDW will concentrate more on policy-making, advocacy, and coordination with the DLSU community. 

The decision to form the new center in conjunction with the approval of the two new policies was “made along the way,” De Vera says, and came about from discussions with the technical working groups of different councils and committees.

This, according to Ragudo, will “further strengthen the mandate of the office to uphold the best interests of the Lasallian community”.

To provide capacity-building programs for the DLSU community, LCIDW will work in close collaboration with the OVPLM, OCCS, CEPD, the Psychology Department, the Health Services Office, and external organizations.

Legaspi shares that as of the moment, the center is still in the planning stage for future activities and programs and is working on a policy implementation structure that can be enacted in the current online setting. In terms of operations, LCIDW is currently functioning on a skeleton force composed of the head of operations and coordinators that will aid Legaspi in carrying out their plans for the center.

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By Jezah Mae Bagsit

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