Claremont, Calif. (May 6, 2022)—When Larry Raskin P’23 and Ramesh Sinaee P’23 toured college campuses a few years ago with their son, Elliot Raskin ’23, they learned there was a growing mental health crisis among college students nationwide. Anxiety and depression were rampant. No college was immune to this epidemic, even before the pandemic struck.
Both Raskin and Sinaee are active citizens and problem solvers. Raskin is a former government attorney with the California State Office of the Attorney General, where he supervised the unit that went after corporate fraud. Sinaee is a practicing physician specializing in internal medicine with the Sutter Medical Group in Sacramento.
So, when their son entered Pitzer, Raskin and Sinaee were determined to help alleviate the ongoing crisis. They had read a study from the Steinberg Institute based in Sacramento that documented suicide as the second leading cause of death for college students. Then they learned of three young men at the other Claremont Colleges taking their own lives during the 2018–19 academic year.
“I’ll never forget Elliot calling me and hearing the pain in his voice as he told me,” said
Raskin. “When I put that phone down, I told Ramesh we had to do something.”
After doing research, Raskin and Sinaee reached out to Pitzer with an offer to help seed a program to address mental health issues. “We didn’t know if we were going to be blown off or if the administration was going to be receptive,” said Raskin. “To our great satisfaction, the vice president of student affairs and all of Pitzer were very receptive. The school carried the ball in terms of devoting the resources and the time and the staff to develop a program.”
In partnership with the Pitzer administration, they helped establish the Strive2Thrive program in 2019 with a gift of $75,000 to better support the critical mental health needs of Pitzer students. In December 2021, they pledged an additional $100,000 to kickstart the Strive2Thrive campaign with the intent of raising an additional $400,000 from those who share their concerns and want to help.
Sinaee’s interest in creating a mental health program at Pitzer stems from both a professional and a personal point of view. As a doctor, depression and anxiety are the most common reasons she sees patients in the office. Personally, she has suffered the loss of a loved one.
“My younger brother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16 and died by suicide in his 40s a few weeks after Elliot had enrolled at Pitzer College,” Sinaee said. “I realized I had to do something to prevent such a tragedy from happening in another family.”
Raskin added: “What I would say to other parents about mental health and wellness is that it’s an issue that touches everybody in some way. So, whether a student is male, female, an athlete, a first-generation, a person of color, LGBTQ, extrovert, or introvert—all of our students are impacted one way or another by the crisis.
“And it is a community health problem that can be best addressed from a community perspective. We have the greatest chance of success in helping the students if we all work together to help provide them with the tools necessary to be resilient and successful in life, both personally and professionally.”
Sinaee says the good news is that treating mental health issues early on can lay a foundation for the rest of students’ lives.
“The support that is provided through a structured program such as Strive2Thrive can help these young adults become more confident about who they are and what they want to accomplish in their lives,” she said.
Since its inception, Strive2Thrive has provided new resources and programs for Pitzer students, including Wellness Wednesdays, which address different aspects of mental health each week.
“Strive2Thrive has created an environment on campus where students proactively and intentionally focus on all dimensions of personal wellness and mental health as part of their daily engagement in the Pitzer experience,” said Gabriella Tempestoso, associate dean of students and director of academic support services and wellness.
There is still more that can be done to make the program more comprehensive, such as bringing on-site counseling to create programs for substance abuse and treatment. The additional $400,000 that the College hopes to raise for Strive2Thrive will help provide needed infrastructure, additional counseling and administrative support, more programs, and resources that meet the needs of a diverse student population.
“I’d like to ask my fellow parents—and all who have an interest in the Pitzer community—to join us to try to enhance the quality of the health and wellness programs,” said Raskin. “I think the payoff is going to be multiple and significant—for our own students, for the Pitzer community, and, frankly, for society at large as our students go on to be effective agents of change.”