Content Warning: This article concerns personal experience and narrative of self-harm, anxiety, and depression.
It was the day before move-in began. I sat at my dining room table, hands clutching my head hoping if I held it hard enough the thoughts would stop. All I could think about was how badly I wanted to die. How much I wanted to suffer. It didn’t take long for my thoughts to become actions.
I messaged a friend, he called Counseling And Psychological Services (CAPS). Two hours later, a Community Service Officer (CSO) and two UCPD officers arrived at my door.
Now let’s just forget for one moment that I am a tall Black male who weighs over 200lbs, delete that I am queer, and erase that my only other interaction with a cop at UCSD was randomly being stopped and questioned one night on my way to Sixth.
My identity and prior experiences no longer matter because CAPS has already dispatched two armed police officers to my door for my “safety.”
I let them in. I sat on my couch trying my best not to panic or make any sudden movements that could lead to me having a bullet in my head. Maybe this was CAPS’ brilliant idea: replace my depression with anxiety.
They asked to see my cut. I obeyed, showing them my left wrist. They asked “how are you feeling now?” I felt anxious, but I didn’t want to antagonize them by saying they were the reason why. Instead I lied, “I’m feeling fine now.”
Even though I didn’t answer their questions completely truthfully, I genuinely believed they cared about my well-being. That is, until one of them strongly suggested they escort me to the ER.
I knew they wanted to make sure I was safe but is there any place more depressing than the ER?
I didn’t vocalize my objection because remember, I am both Black and Queer: a member of two communities who historically and presently have terrible relationships with the police.
So of course, I obeyed and followed the officer to his vehicle. He didn’t handcuff me, but I did get to experience how uncomfortable the back of a police vehicle is. Guess this is the Black boy’s version of riding in a fire truck.
On the way to the ER, we made small-talk about what I study and how I have a lot left to live for. In an alternate universe, I would never think of hurting myself again and that cop and I would become good friends. This is not that universe.
This is the universe where CAPS is so underfunded at UCSD that students voted to pay a fee to increase CAPS funding. Let me repeat that. UC San Diego students will now pay a fee to ensure that our mental health services are adequate. If crime was rampant on campus, we would not have to pay a “security fee” to make campus safer. Yet the opposite is true: UCPD is overfunded while CAPS is underfunded.
The underfunding of CAPS is why police showed up at my door. Would you send a terminator to rescue a cat from a tree? No. Then why are the police handling calls involving “students of concern?” I am lucky I have Persistent Depressive Disorder and not a mental illness that could have caused me to react with aggression. Some mentally-ill folks have not been so lucky.
Holding a shovel was enough for San Diego PD to kill David Carolino. Alfred Olango was having a mental breakdown over the loss of a friend when San Diego PD killed him. There are countless acts of police brutality that we haven’t even heard of because the UC System has only released information on 2 of at least 200 incidents of police brutality statewide.
It is abundantly clear that the police wield too much power within the UC System. There should have been two medical professionals trained in dealing with mentally-ill individuals at my door. That way they could’ve helped me in my own apartment instead of whisking me off to some ER where all my belongings were taken away from me.
Where I couldn’t pee without the door locked.
Where I had to lay in an uncomfortable bed listening to random beeps and boops and a woman wailing.
This experience made me silently vow as an R.A that if one of my residents or friends was a “student of concern” I would ensure they were safe myself. If that meant escorting them to CAPS, or when CAPS is closed and I couldn’t guarantee that they were safe alone, to the ER, I would do it. I may not be the most knowledgeable about mental illnesses, but I am sure as hell am more capable to aid someone than UCPD.
Even though I care for my residents and friends, I know this should not be my burden. Students deserve the comfort of knowing that if they are ever thinking of harming themselves they can call CAPS and a medical professional will assist them in the comfort of their home. Or in more extreme scenarios, take them to a medical facility where they can get the specialized care they need.
CAPS must stop dispatching UCPD to handle cases of “students of concern.” Mentally-ill students are facing medical issues. They should be taken care of by medical professionals.
Tajairi Neuson is a former Resident Advisor and incoming fourth year student at UCSD. You can follow them on Twitter @tajairi.