By Garrett Cecere
As College President Kathryn Foster has eased into the second full year of her position, she has taken time to consider her initiatives for the campus community.
Foster highlighted goals to The Signal in three major categories: mental health, inclusion at the College and Title IX and safety on campus.
The president acknowledged the revision of Mental Health Services following the 2018-19’ academic year, when the College community dealt with an incident of racial bias and mourned the deaths of four students and a football coach.
In the last five years, MHS staff has increased by 35 percent. The personnel now consists of eight counselors, a part-time psychiatrist and four trainees at either a professional or graduate level.
“(The staff) is diversified in gender identity and preferences, … in race and ethnicity, … areas of experience,” Foster said. “Those eight counselors are a team that we hope students, when they go and encounter (MHS), can find that there are people there who really have had experiences akin to theirs.”
According to Mark Forest, the MHS director and assistant vice president for Student Affairs, Health and Wellness, there were between four and five counselors when he started working at the College in 2014.
Foster mentioned the increase of the availability for people who walk into MHS with an immediate need.
“The concern was that people come in and say, ‘I have a need,’ and we say, ‘OK, we have an appointment two weeks from now,’” she said.
According to Forest, increasing initial ability for counselors to see students was an important goal for MHS.
“(Originally, there was) a waitlist. People had to wait way too long in order to get in … partly because they were understaffed,” he said.
Forest noted that an initial challenge for students was getting quick access to MHS.
“Getting people in quickly was really important, and there was a delay for people to get in to service,” he said.
In addition to opening MHS’ availability to students, all future College ID cards will have a suicide prevention hotline number listed on them. Foster also mentioned that 37 students are currently being trained to answer a suicide prevention hotline specific to the College.
“It is an intensive training — it’s 11 weeks long,” Foster said. “But once we have that community of students, there’ll be, I think, some very important peer-to-peer … conversations that will enable around … mental health … and suicide prevention in particular.”
While last year’s racial incident hit the College hard, Foster acknowledged that it forced the campus community to come together.
“The silver lining — if there is one, when you have … bias incidents — is that it crystallizes the importance of leaning into these issues,” she said. “And I’m proud of the campus for leaning into these issues and being responsive in many ways.”
This past spring semester, Foster appointed Ivonne Cruz as the Acting Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Now, the search is underway for a permanent vice president, as candidates have begun to engage in open sessions with campus community members.
“There’s a search committee (with) students, faculty and staff on it. We will be bringing in candidates this fall,” Foster said. “What it expresses is a permanence of our commitment to this area.”
In March, Cruz’s office established the Bias Response Team to combat future incidents. If someone were to report an incident, the team would record the data. The members would then determine the level of action that needs to take place depending on how serious it is.
“Some of the issues that come to our attention might be, ‘my professor said something and it … offended me, I don’t think he or she meant it that way, but somebody might want to reach out and let them know that that language … here’s how some of us reacted to it,’” Foster said.
For smaller incidents, Foster said that educational interventions are a possibility.
“(It’s) not a conduct thing, not a criminal thing, not a crime, but rather an opportunity for us to be aware of, perhaps a microaggression,” she said.
The College has also put money into the Faculty Diversification Fund, which pertains to promoting more representation in various fields, such as including men in nursing or women in physics.
“(It involves) thinking really carefully about the level of the discipline and saying, ‘are there perspectives that we haven’t been able to capture because our faculty doesn’t yet represent … a broader population in that area?’” Foster said.
On the topic of campus safety, the president noted the expansion of services at the College, including the promotion of a Title IX investigator to coordinator, as well as the addition of a new investigator.
Foster acknowledged that the modifications reflect the necessity in areas of safety and Title IX, including the addition of a new clinician to the College’s Anti-Violence Initiative staff.
“(The commitment to safety) is always paramount, but there’s always more you could be doing,” she said. “The demand for counseling, advocacy, prevention, services remains high. It has been high.”
Starting this semester, stickers have been posted on various bathroom walls around campus to remind students of the reality of dating violence and resources that are available to them.
In connection through the signs around campus that read, “Roscoe is watching for your safety,” the College found out through focus groups this past spring that some students felt that certain areas were not as safe or well lit as others, such as spaces by parking garages.
Foster said the College is adding new cameras with higher resolution. According to Vice President for Information Technology and Campus Safety Sharon Blanton, the project is halfway complete and will include updating the software that operates the cameras.
Blanton said the College is also replacing some thumb locks on campus so that doors can lock from the inside. Installation have already been done in the Social Science Building, the Brower Student Center, Forcina Hall and the Education Building. However, Blanton said that the College will continue the procedure as it obtains funds and identifies needs.
“Hopefully, we will never need to use them but if we did have such an emergency, we want to make sure we have the availability to hide in a locked space,” Blanton said.
As Foster reflects on her first year at the College and looks forward to the rest of the current academic year, she hopes that the campus community continues to develop its values and adapt as needed.
“My hope is that we will continue to thrive, we will continue to do it as a … college that’s known for its excellence, its inclusivity, its engagement, all the things that are our values.”