University endeavors to improve student wellness

By RUDY MALCOM | September 5, 2019

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COURTESY OF ERNIE LAROSSA & ERIN YUN

From left to right, University administrators Baker, Shollenberger and Shanahan share visions for the future.

This summer, the University made leadership changes intended to improve student well-being. Alanna Shanahan became vice provost for student affairs on August 12, succeeding Kevin Shollenberger, now the University’s first vice provost for student health and well-being. Formerly senior associate director of athletics, Jennifer Baker was promoted to Shanahan’s previous role as director of athletics and recreation.

The News-Letter spoke with Shollenberger, Shanahan and Baker on August 27. The three administrators shared their goals for their new positions, addressing issues such as the planned private police force and barriers to accessing mental health resources.

Student Health and Well-Being

Last fall, Shollenberger worked with Provost Sunil Kumar to review the recommendations made by the Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-Being in February 2018. The Task Force — comprised of students, faculty and staff from all nine divisions of the University — was formed by University President Ronald J. Daniels in March 2016 in order to improve mental health on campus. 

The Task Force’s recommendations, Shollenberger said, highlighted the need to consolidate the University’s mental health resources, which are currently decentralized across each of the University’s nine divisions.

As the inaugural provost for student health and well-being, Shollenberger aims to develop a single University-wide system for primary care and health and wellness programs.

“We’re looking at what some of the barriers might be to accessing those services,” he said. 

For a more central location on campus, the Office of Student Disability Services (SDS) is set to move to Shaffer Hall by October. Before plans for the future student center were announced last spring, the Office of SDS had permits to move to the Mattin Center. 

“It’s much more accessible than what the Garland Hall space was,” he said.

Shollenberger also intends to launch a more streamlined system so that students with disabilities who are dually enrolled will not have to register for accommodations twice.

Shollenberger, who joined the University as vice provost for student affairs in July 2013, also now oversees the Counseling Center. 

The Center’s current policy is to refer students in need of longer-term treatment to resources outside of the University. 

Yet for some students, the cost of outside treatment can be an obstacle. 

Shollenberger characterized this as a national issue — one he hopes to tackle by strategizing with healthcare providers and better leveraging resources across the University. 

He noted that longer-term care falls outside the scope of the Counseling Center. He also disputed the perception that the Center’s increased caseload for new patients has made it difficult for returning patients to make appointments, citing conversations with the Center’s Executive Director Matthew Torres.

“There’s this thought out there that we have a cap on appointments, and we don’t,” Shollenberger said. “I would love to hear more from students who are actually saying that it’s inhibited them from getting follow-up appointments. Talking to Dr. Torres, that’s not been our experience.” 

Shollenberger added that he has heard from many students that they don’t know about wellness resources available to them. In order to increase awareness of the University’s programs and reduce stigma around mental health, he helped launch wellness.jhu.edu, which first-year students learned about during Orientation Week. 

Similarly, Shollenberger plans to roll out mental health training programs for professors. 

He said that two public health departments would pilot the program last week and that more departments will be offered the program this semester. 

By the end of the fall, he expects to propose more structural changes to health and wellbeing services. 

The University’s nine deans will review these recommendations during the spring, he said, and implement them for the 2020-21 academic year.

Shollenberger emphasized that, because of its level of academic rigor, Hopkins can be especially conducive to feelings of isolation and depression. 

“The transition can be hard at times,” he said. “It may be the first time a student gets an A or isn’t at the top of their class.”

Shollenberger plans to create resilience programs that will give students the tools to deal with stress and anxiety at Hopkins and beyond.

He is proud to have helped launch the Hop-In Program to support first-generation college students and students from low-income families. Shollenberger highlighted how his experiences as an undergraduate motivate him professionally. 

“When I hear students talk about ‘Do I really belong here? Am I smart enough to be here?’, I still recall some of those feelings my first year in college,” he said. “It was really my associate dean of students who took me under her wing and provided me with support, and I think that’s why I’m sitting here today.”

Student Affairs

Alanna Shanahan joined Hopkins as the director of athletics and recreation in July 2016. As vice provost for student affairs, she will now manage a greater breadth of facets of student life, including certain academic, residential and extracurricular services. 

“I’ve spent a career in athletics and recreation, and I loved every minute of it. While I have a significant learning curve... at the end of the day, our premise is comparable, in that we’re in the business of serving students,” she said. 

Shanahan took on broader responsibilities last year, when she began spearheading the process to design and build the student center. In an email to The News-Letter, she addressed students’ concerns regarding the future loss of the Mattin Center, a home for the visual and performing arts on campus.

“We will be hiring an additional architect to navigate the temporary and permanent relocations resulting from the demo of Mattin,” she wrote. 

Shanahan also plans to spend this semester engaging with students before formulating objectives for other areas of student affairs. 

“I’m spending a lot of time over the course of the next few months really just listening and learning,” she said. “While I’ve had a surface-level understanding of everything that’s happening in student affairs, this is sort of my moment to take that deep dive.”

In addition to working with the Student Government Association and the Graduate Representative Organization, Shanahan also aims to carve out time in her calendar for informal meetings with students, like at the Fresh Food Cafe, for instance.

Shanahan stated that the month-long occupation of Garland Hall in protest of the planned private police force — which ended on May 8 in the arrests of seven people, including four students — demonstrates the need for more proactive discussions regarding issues that concern students and the greater Baltimore community.

“I would just hope that moving forward we can find a more productive place, as far as coming together as a community sooner, and not necessarily have a protest run on indefinitely,” she said.

Contemplating the possibility of future student protests, she urged students to adhere to safety and security guidelines. University leadership repeatedly condemned the escalation of protesters’ tactics, which included students chaining themselves to the building’s stairwells in violation of fire codes.

Shanahan mentioned that the University is committed to ensuring the accountability of the planned private police force, given many students’ concerns of racial profiling.

“You can’t just put our institutional core values around civil rights and civil liberties in jeopardy,” she said. 

Shanahan explained that private police officers will be trained on how to interact with students experiencing medical or mental health crises and how to be sensitive to people of color and individuals from the LGBTQ community. 

In an email to The News-Letter, Senior Media Representative Jill Rosen for the Office of Communications detailed the composition of two relevant meetings recently hosted by the University’s Office of Government and Community Affairs (GCA). 

The GCA works to develop the University’s relationship with a variety of stakeholders. 

“There were about 60 people representing 35 neighborhood associations and organizations near the Homewood, East Baltimore and Peabody Campuses,” Rosen wrote. “The meetings were also attended by community members from the VP for Security Search Committee, elected officials and a representative from the Mayor’s Office.”

In July, the University convened a committee to consider candidates for the vice president of security after Melissa Hyatt, the last person to permanently hold that role, became Baltimore County’s first female police chief in June. 

Shanahan did not know when to expect the committee to name someone to fill the position permanently. Hyatt’s successor would oversee the private police force. 

Shanahan expressed the need for student and community involvement before the police force’s eventual implementation.

“There are so many steps that will happen before we actually have a police force,” she said. “And it’s important that we see a high level of not only student but also community engagement.”

Athletics & Recreation

Jennifer Baker succeeds Shanahan as director of athletics and recreation. 

As senior associate director of athletics since September 2017, Baker helped oversee the department’s day-to-day operations. She said that she looks forward to guiding the future trajectory of the department, along with expanding the Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation Center. 

“The core to athletics is developing people, so we’re really continuing to ensure that we’re offering a robust student athlete development program,” she said. 

Baker believes that students’ participation in athletics fosters self-exploration, a sense of excellence and future success in life. 

She commended the value of student-athlete input, citing as an example the hiring of a director of strength and conditioning during her tenure.

Before joining the University, Baker flew planes in the Navy for three years.

Although her career path is somewhat nontraditional, she said, her military service inspires her work today.

“I believe that I was put on this earth to help others be their best,” she said. “Sports is the vehicle through which I do it.”

She stressed her excitement for her new position and getting to know students while they grow.

Shanahan echoed Baker’s sentiments.

“We graduate not only great scholars, but people who are going to make a difference in all facets of our world,” she said. “That’s a place you want to be, and something that makes me excited to come to work every day.”

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