University of Houston students held a rally and vigil Thursday after two students died by suicide in the same building over the last several months. Another student died by suicide at the same building in 2017.
The rally was organized by Student Solidarity at UH after student-body disapproval of the university's response to the incidents, including the latest death earlier this week at Agnes Arnold Hall.
"I had heard really positive things about the University of Houston, and since getting here, I've just been really embarrassed with the way the university has decided to approach and handle things like suicide happening on campus," Student and organizer Erin Smart said.
According to the organization, students reporting suicidal thoughts have increased by 30% to 40% on campus. A 2016 investigation from the Texas Tribune shows UH has the most understaffed mental health resources in Texas for its size.
CAPS, or Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Houston, has a current ratio of almost one counselor per 2,122 students. The International Association of Counseling Services recommends college counseling centers have closer to one full-time staff member per 1,500 students.
Student Solidarity UH is calling on the university to increase funding for mental health resources. Other demands included improving mental health protocols and response on-campus.
"Stop UHPD involvement in conducting wellness checks," the organization wrote in a statement.
Along with that, students requested that Agnes Arnold Hall, where the deaths occurred, be modified to prevent access to open-air areas of the upper floors.
Jacob Medina is the brother of the student who died this week. He joined students at the rally.
"I firmly believe that this was a split-second decision," he said. "And his access to the building, the ease of it all. If he couldn't get to that building, he wouldn't have done it, I don't think," Medina said.
On Tuesday, the university temporarily blocked access to Agnes Arnold Hall. In a statement, the school said classes scheduled in the building would be held remotely for the remainder of the week.
"We are working to secure access to the building, including limited access to faculty and staff offices," the university wrote.
UH President Renu Khator also said in a letter that her team is making mental health and suicide prevention an urgent university priority.
"There is nothing more precious than human life," she wrote. "Since the first incident in February, my team and I had made mental health a university-level priority by intensifying our efforts in fixing the building and increasing mental health outreach. Clearly, it was not enough. Therefore, now I am making mental health and suicide prevention an urgent university priority, which means that we have to find solutions and do so right away."
Shortly after the protest, there was a vigil at Agnes Arnold Hall for the students that died. Students, family and friends held electric candles and roses to leave at two spots near the building.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is help and hope. Please call the crisis hotline at 9-8-8.