Supporting student mental health and well-being

Dear Students,

I write today to offer my support to the Cornell student community in light of our recent loss of student Shawn West. This past year has been extraordinarily difficult, having navigated intersecting stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including xenophobia, health disparities, national reckonings related to racial injustice, political upheaval, and economic downturn. The toll on students has been especially heavy. Many students have taken the time to express to university leadership that they, or others they know, are struggling. We want you to know that we hear you.

We understand that the challenges of meeting academic demands have been exacerbated by political, racial, and health crises that have placed students’ families at risk. We recognize the impact of these acute and cumulative stressors on one’s body, mind, and emotions and that each of you are navigating them through your own ways of coping. While it is both normal and understandable to have difficulty managing academics when concentration, memory, and sleep are compromised, we also know that some of you rely on your academic pursuits to provide a sense of structure and predictability in these uncertain times.

For those of you needing assistance in courses, we encourage you to reach out directly to your instructors. Yesterday, we wrote to all instructors urging them to respond to your requests with as much compassion and flexibility as is humanly possible. The college student services offices are also available for academic advising; they are great advocates and are available to help you weigh your options or formulate a strategy for contacting instructors about academic considerations. If you need additional accommodations or wish to explore how Student Disability Services can support you, start with completing their confidential contact form.

However, we also recognize that the temporary flexibility that instructors are able to extend might not be enough for students who are overwhelmed, utterly exhausted, and need more space to process their emotions and grieve. In an effort to alleviate some of the academic stress students may be experiencing during this time, the colleges have collectively agreed to offer an unusual level of flexibility for students to drop a course without a W through the last day of instruction, May 14. This applies to any full Spring 2021 semester course, as well as 7-week courses offered in the second half of the semester.

Please remember that before making the decision to drop a course, you should talk with your faculty or college academic advisor to weigh your options and discuss any potential academic implications of these decisions. Also, it is imperative to be planful if you might drop below 12 academic credits, as doing so may negatively affect your academic standing, financial aid, immigration status, and/or athletic compliance. Beginning April 19, please use this form rather than Student Center to initiate your course drop request.

Please take good care of yourselves and each other, and stay safe.


Lisa Nishii
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education

Community Resources

Individuals can have a diverse range of feelings, needs, and reactions when facing loss. This information about Grief and Loss may be helpful to you or a friend. The Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. A wide range of supportive resources is also available at We also encourage you to look out for each other. You might find this Notice & Respond: Friend 2 Friend training offered by the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives helpful for learning how to recognize and reach out to other students in distress.

Students in need of professional mental health support can call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 607-255-5155. Please note, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all CAPS services are currently being delivered via telehealth. Whenever these services are closed, calls are answered by Cornell Health’s on-call mental health provider.