Recent suicides on IIT-M campus have led to a wide-ranging debate on the existing support systems in the IIT’s and specifically IIT Madras. We approached Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, our Director, to understand the administration’s take on several issues that have been raised by students and general public – from the state of counselling services to academic pressure and prevention of substance abuse.
In the first part of this four-part Interview with the Director, Prof. Bhaskar answers several questions regarding MITR, its role and effectiveness.
The suicides have brought MITR and its effectiveness under the radar. Are there any changes that are going to be brought about in MITR to make it more efficient?
Nothing in haste – we are trying to understand whether anything is lacking. Our outreach to students has many components, of which MITR is only one part — we have professional counsellors who are available at locations in the institute, where people can go to them unnoticed. They are available on telephone after office hours too.
If MITR is only one part, what are the other layers of support infrastructure that institute has put in place?
The Anandakrishnan Committee that was constituted by MHRD recommended that it isn’t enough to just have professional counsellors in hospitals where students will not go — those who need help usually tend to withdraw, so it is good if informally, faculty and fellow students can direct them to counselling. These people aren’t trained to provide counselling themselves; that’s not the purpose. We have support at different levels.
Now this is a little bit like airport security: we can’t assume that everybody knows how to do their job well or will do their job. Why do you think they have 3-4 layers of security in airports? It’s to ensure nobody slips past, right? So if every 10 students have a Faculty Advisor, a good Faculty Advisor may notice something in the student when the student meets him or her, and they will alert MITR. If the Fac-Ad doesn’t, then MITR student counsellors and MITR FacAd will have to find out on their own.
Each counsellor has about 10 students in the hostel to just keep an eye on — if he/she is missing from the room for a long time, locked up in the room, not going for meals, and so on. The training that is given to these coordinators is, if that happens, how do you go ask what’s wrong and if they need anything? This is why it’s easy for the students to think these counsellors are spying when they come knocking on doors. The question is, if you don’t do that, how will you even reach out to the person? So there is a tradeoff here… Students and faculty are not trained in counselling because they’re not expected to do it. What we are trying to tell them is how to be helpful without necessarily being intrusive. When student counsellors feel that there is a problem but the student is not responding, they inform the MITR FacAd, and this makes it look even more like it’s spying! Drawing a line between what is intrusion and what is not becomes a problem, but it has been recommended that it’s not enough to just advertise the names of the counsellors, as they do in the West. Instead, like in the old days, where friends used to be much more intrusive in some sense, maybe we should look out more for each other…
Student counsellors are given mess rebates to reward them for their work — how effective do you think this is as an incentive?
This has been effective to some extent. Mess rebate is a way of showing the administration’s gratitude to those who make an effort. Cash was a not an option, hence the mess rebate. If he/she has been able to help even one student by connecting them to a professional, then it has been effective. If the student in question had been regularly hanging out with his friends then there is absolutely no reason to suspect anything. In case of very introverted students who stay locked up in their rooms, the student counsellors come in handy to help connect them to professional help.
The question then is if the student who has needed help has been given the necessary care. That’s when the MITR advisor, Dean (Students) and the FacAd come into play and take the help of the institute hospital.
A Townhall with the Director, Prof Bhaskar Ramamurthi, is being organized by MiTr, SAC and T5E for students to voice their concerns on, and provide suggestions to improve, the condition of mental wellness within the Institute.Date: Thursday, 12/11/15Time: 6 to 8 PMVenue: Central Lecture Theater
Don’t miss it!