SGA discusses campus mental health resources

By KATY WILNER | September 27, 2018

The Student Government Association (SGA) discussed electing a student to participate on the Board of Trustees at their weekly meeting on Tuesday. SGA also addressed its collaboration with other student organizations to advocate for graduate students’ rights and promote mental health on campus.

Executive Vice President AJ Tsang discussed a meeting he had with Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger, Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka and several other administrators about instituting a student presence on the Board of Trustees. Tsang said that SGA would be looking for members to start working on student representation on the Board of Trustees at the end of the semester.

In his meeting with Shollenberger, Tsang also discussed the smoking ban resolution that SGA passed last week.

Tsang noted that the smoking ban has been brought up by other student groups on campus, and it has been proposed that all Hopkins campuses be smoke-free.

“It turns out there has been a lot of work on this policy in the past few years that involves undergrads but also grad students, faculty and staff, and this policy would be for all nine schools,” he said.

Tsang said that they have not officially proposed this policy, and the administration is working to figure out how to properly enforce any kind of smoking policy.

Members from Teachers and Researchers United (TRU) also spoke at the meeting on Tuesday. Physics and Astronomy graduate students Peter Weck and Erini Lambrides discussed their plans for unionizing the organization, which they officially announced on Wednesday at the Stand Up, Speak Out rally.

Lambrides addressed SGA members and discussed the importance of graduate students’ presence on campus, especially in classes that are taught solely by TAs. 

“Our working conditions are your learning conditions. I’m sure you’ve had classes where the section was super overbooked, and the TA was super overworked, and you have questions and everyone’s in line and it’s just chaos,” she said.  

Weck and Lambrides explained that TRU is different than other graduate student organizations such as the Graduate Representative Organization (GRO) because they are completely independent from the University and do not receive Hopkins funding for their events. Lambrides also said that TRU includes students from a variety of different branches of the school.

“GRO is only working on the Homewood campus, but TRU is including Bloomberg School of Public Health and the School of Education,” she said.

She noted that the University has responded positively to TRU’s movements, including their labor movement. Lambrides said that TRU is pushing for their labor movement so that students are treated as workers, not just as students. 

The TRU representatives also said that they appreciated that many student groups who were not affiliated with graduate students support TRU. They noted that in order to further protect their rights as workers, they felt they needed to unionize.

Next, Assistant Vice Provost for Student Life Strategy and Policy Sarah K. Cunningham addressed SGA members about an initiative that the University is undertaking to improve student mental health and student disability services on campus. 

“I am excited to announce that we just hired a search firm that is going to help us in our inaugural search for the executive director for Student Disability Services,” Cunningham said.

She explained that this director will work with the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) and will provide services for students across all Hopkins campuses. According to her, the University is planning to have potential candidates ready to interview between late November and early December. 

Cunningham said that the University is working on making counseling services more accessible for students at Homewood. She cited the new program, Chat with a Counselor, which is available in Brody on Mondays and Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

She said that the “drop-in” services at the Counseling Center have worked to decrease wait times. According to Executive Director of the Counseling Center Matthew Torres, the average wait time during the first week of classes was eight minutes, the second week was 11.5 minutes, the third week was 8.75 minutes and the following week was 6.5 minutes.

“It really seems to be a service that students are taking advantage of,” Cunningham said. “The Counseling Center continues to think about how to create greater access and be more agile to meet the students’ needs.”

She also applauded Mary O’Connell, senior executive director of Homewood Student Affairs finance and administration, and Shollenberger’s efforts to work on a contract to extend free student access to the Calm app. The app includes guided meditations, music, sleep stories, light exercises and stretches. Cunningham encouraged SGA members to encourage other students to use the app.

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