I recently got to work closely with both Kimiko Hirota and Bryce Tuttle over the past school year, while planning a mental health campaign with the Stanford Asian-American Activism Committee to protest Stanford’s egregious treatment of students struggling with mental health issues. Through gross misapplication of its dean’s leave of absence policy, the University had essentially evicted multiple students from on-campus housing and cut them off from their support systems, all while effectively blaming them for their struggles with mental health. Over several months and many long discussions spent figuring out SAAAC’s message and its platform, conversations with both Kimiko and Bryce helped make it clear to me that Stanford’s dean’s leave of absence policy was emblematic of a larger, endemic inability of the University to take mental health issues seriously.
But where the University has blamed students and disregarded their struggles, Kimiko and Bryce have a powerful platform to change the way mental health is handled at Stanford. They both firmly oppose the current iteration of the dean’s leave of absence policy, and as an organizer at SAAAC I’ve seen their dedication firsthand — they both helped organize, and both spoke at, a rally held by SAAAC last winter protesting the dean’s leave of absence policy in White Plaza. They are calling for the removal of police involvement in 5150s on campus — it’s frustrating to me that the University (and the larger state) think that cops could ever be helpful in de-escalating high-risk situations, and Kimiko and Bryce share that frustration and are ready to take steps to disentangle law enforcement from mental health.
Kimiko and Bryce are also calling for serious changes to the way CAPS is handled, and their suggestions for reform are comprehensive and well-considered, as well as attentive to the way students struggle with long wait times and an inefficient system. Their call to have the salaries of CAPS therapists be competitive with other options in the Bay would be a massive step forward in terms of improving CAPS’s poor retention rate with respect to therapists, and therapists of color in particular; and their call to improve off-campus referrals by having, among other things, a dedicated staff member to assist students searching for long-term therapy will ensure that students who need consistent mental health support won’t fall through the cracks of the current system.
While I trust the comprehensive plan they bring to the table for on-campus mental health, my support for Kimiko and Bryce is ultimately rooted in my deep respect for their community organizing work. In SAAAC, Kimiko is boundlessly passionate, and somehow combines both a deep knowledge of the issues at hand with an empathy for those most affected. In a recent meeting with the vice provost of student affairs after SAAAC’s mental health rally, Kimiko, it seemed, knew all the right questions to ask — and knew where to push, and knew where to listen. Meanwhile, I have been moved by the sheer dedication Bryce brings to the movement for disability equity on campus — the campaign he organized calling for a disability community center was one of the most comprehensive and well thought out I’ve seen in my time at Stanford, a thoughtfulness that obviously evidenced a genuine care for the issues at hand. I know I want my vote to go to organizers who stand by and work with, not only for, marginalized communities on campus — and Kimiko and Bryce fit the bill.