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Students At UC Berkeley Take A Big Step Toward Improving Mental Health On Campus

04/23/2015 02:03 pm ET | Updated Apr 23, 2015

University of California-Berkeley students voted this month to increase their own fees to improve mental health services, expand stress management efforts and increase resources available for sexual assault survivors on campus.

Pending final approval, Cal students will have a new $146 wellness fee on their tuition bills starting in the fall 2015 semester. But the cost will replace a $93.50 fee currently allocated towards recreational sports costs that they already pay. The fee increase was approved overwhelmingly through a campus wide referendum vote between April 7 and 9, with 7,308 students voting in favor to 2,950 opposed.

"UC Berkeley, like many other UCs, has a tight budget, and as such, we are unable to adequately support students in their physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being," said student senator Madison Gordon, the primary sponsor of the referendum in the Associated Students of University of California.

The new fee will expand hours for on-campus counseling services on evening and weekends, help fund classes on nutrition and stress management, expand space for fitness services and create spots for yoga and meditation on campus. The funding will also help develop specific mental health programs for "underserved populations" of LGBTQIA students, veterans, student parents, international students and students with disabilities, and a portion will support work on sexual assault survivor advocacy and gender violence education efforts. One day, the sponsors of the referendum hope to add nap rooms on campus as well.

The referendum was the result of a yearlong collaboration between students and the directors of Recreational Sports and University Health Services, according to Gordon. The fee could bring in nearly $2 million annually.

The university's budget office is waiting on official notification from the ASUC Judicial Council certifying the votes, said UC Berkeley spokesman Adam M. Ratliff. The proposed fee will then have to be approved by the Cal chancellor and get final approval from the UC Office of the President before it can be assessed.

The overwhelming vote in favor of raising fees is particularly notable at UC Berkeley, a campus known for large scale demonstrations against tuition hikes. Last fall, students staged a massive walkout to protest a 5 percent bump in costs, which was postponed in February. But Gordon explained that a portion of this particular new fee will help offset the school's financial aid pool.

"We, the students, are already in a dire situation where we can barely afford to attend this university, let alone pay more," Gordon said. "But I think what made the difference is that one-third of all funds collected will go back to financial aid, providing a safety net for those most in need. Additionally, unlike blanket tuition hikes, the purpose of this increase was clearly laid out so that students know where the money is going."

The students hope to eventually use the money generated from the fee to hire someone to fundraise specifically for wellness programs so students ultimately don't bear the brunt of the costs.

Read the full referendum below:

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