Mental Health, Campus Bonding, Diversity Issues and Free Food

In the latest of a series of Town Hall discussions held at our Monday night meetings, the AAS opened its doors this week to three members of the Mental Health Task Force — Denise McGoldrick, Director of Health Education at the College, Kate Turetsky ’12 and Gavin Front ’12. The Task Force has been charged with exploring and providing recommendations regarding existing mental health resources and determining what additional resources should be developed to ensure the best possible mental health for all students at the College. Over the course of their presentation, the three task force representatives described how they met with a wide cross–section of students and rapidly discovered that most students shared common concerns. Many of them neither knew that Amherst has a free counseling center for students, nor, if they did know about the center, know how to go about using it.
McGoldrick, Turetsky and Front also explained that many students share mistaken beliefs about mental health on campus. For example, many students mistakenly believed that if a student goes to the Dean of Students office to discuss difficulties they have been having then the Dean will ask them to leave campus until they are feeling better, when in reality this rarely happens. Furthermore, they spoke at length about the need to battle misconceptions about mental health. Citing parental and peer pressures, the task force found that many students are hesitant to make use of the College’s mental health resources.

Many senators spoke up to voice their belief that there needs to be a greater collective knowledge about mental health issues so that students can better help their friends deal with difficulties. The task force agreed and noted that they were already in the process of developing some comprehensive recommendations including offering inter-term courses about mental health, integrating mental health issues into freshman orientation and developing a loose team of peer counselors that can provide assistance to their friends, dorm mates and teammates.

After that discussion, the Senate took up its weekly business. First up were a series of Committee and Officer Reports. One report of particular interest came from Matt Echelman ’14. Though not a senator, Echelman was appointed by President Romen Borsellino to fill the role of Campus Community Coordinator for the AAS. Confirmed by the Senate just three weeks ago, Matt has wasted no time in setting in motion three projects aimed at uniting an increasingly fragmented student body (see: the debate over Spring Concert, the “Think!” pamphlet, et al.).

Matt proposed hosting a full school dodgeball tournament in March that should appeal to many different groups of students. He also floated the idea of the AAS collaborating with Marsh to bolster its Coffee House programming by sponsoring an actual coffee shop staffed by students in the Marsh common room on weekends. Finally, Matt announced that he would begin holding a series of open Campus Community conversations on Monday nights before Senate meetings to discuss community building at Amherst.

Matt’s efforts are the latest in a concerted push by the AAS to unite the student body. Though in recent weeks, the AAS has taken its fair share of attacks (some deserved), the Senate has been and continues to be strongly committed to creating a stronger sense of “Amherst” community on campus. In addition to appointing Matt as CCC, Romen recently appointed Rohan Mazumdar ’12 to spearhead a taskforce on diversity issues on campus. Rohan’s mandate is not only to explore the resources available to different groups of students, but to study how the College’s student body interacts with one another and to ensure that students experience the rich mix of cultural, religious, ethnic and economic backgrounds of which we are each a part. All of this brings us to a final issue: late night food.

What does late night food have to do with uniting the student body, you ask? Last Thursday, the AAS worked with Dining Services to host a late night snack event at Keefe Campus Center. Senator John Yarchoan ’13, who was on the scene click-counter in hand, told the Senate that over 500 students — roughly 1/3 of the Amherst student body present on campus — showed up to share in the free food. Indeed, despite our varied interests and backgrounds, there is one thing that all Amherst students can agree on: free food is awesome. So, when it came time during Monday’s meeting to elect a senator to fill a vacancy on the Dining Services committee, late night food was a hot-topic of discussion. Alex Southmayd ’15, who was elected to serve, promised to push dining services toward providing a more regular late night food option that will bring students together to eat and socialize more frequently and at the same time, save me a lot of money on calzones. I believe that is a cause we can all get behind.