This week, students comforted one another in the midst of their mourning, joined together in anguish to voice their broken hearts and held high signs demanding change on Rowan’s campus.
Disbelief and devastation swallowed the Rowan community this week, following the heart-wrenching loss of one of our own students. Maximilian Gray-Barquero was a beloved friend to many, a talented athlete, a gifted artist and an aspiring illustrator and animator. He was a son, a dedicated student and an adored member of the Rowan community. On Nov. 1, he lost his life by suicide at 19 years old, sending a shockwave of grief and worry across campus.
Following this tragedy, little information regarding the details of his death were made public. The university released a statement on Nov. 6, to inform the Rowan community of the tragedy, stating, “Our thoughts are with the family, friends and others who knew this student. We understand that people want information in times of uncertainty, but the family’s loss is of the utmost importance and we ask that everyone respects their privacy around the details of the death.”
And while there has been no concrete evidence showing any correlation between this tragedy and the availability or accommodations provided by the university’s Wellness Center, the response from a large number of students has been one of grievance and frustration, voicing their grief and anger toward the university through a protest held outside Savitz Hall on Monday, Nov. 8, and despairing social media posts throughout the week. While some students are demanding that the university hire more than the 15 available counselors, others have expressed a need for the construction of a second Wellness Center on campus.
However, university officials have pushed back on assertions that the Wellness Center isn’t adequately prepared to service students’ mental health needs.
According to Scott Woodside, director of the Wellness Center at Rowan University, “Every division across campus, including the Wellness Center, is constantly looking to improve, so, over the past years, we’ve expanded the SMART process, we’ve added a number of resources, both digital and in-person, we’ve expanded the number of providers we have…we’re continuously looking into how we’re going to improve and change and listen to our students…we’ve developed some focus groups, so were listening to what students are saying and what their needs are.”
The mental health of college students has become an increasingly prominent area of concern as college campuses, nationwide, have struggled to navigate operations through the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), the pandemic has directly impacted the mental well-being of a large majority of higher education students in the U.S., with 56% of young adults ages 18-24 having experienced symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder since the onset of the pandemic. Compared to all adults, young adults have been more than twice as likely to report having suicidal thoughts during the pandemic.
On Rowan’s campus, specifically, outcries for increased mental health services have been ongoing for years now. Following the devastating death of three students by suicide during the Fall 2019 semester. Students across campus were shaken and frustrated regarding the lack of resources that they felt were not available to struggling students in need of care.
Still, two years later, these same concerns have been brought to light by a collection of impassioned individuals within the Rowan community.
One student, who wished to remain anonymous, noted his discouragement through the service provided to him during his struggles with addiction on campus in 2018.
“It’s not just about the infrastructure of mental health and making more buildings and hiring more people. It’s about looking at the process and saying, ‘What are our goals for students, and how are we going to have ongoing support for them?’ Because, in my experience, they said ‘We want to fix you and be done, and then we’re gonna send you back out.’ [The therapy provided by the university] was very minimal…I needed more than that…we need to not only improve the infrastructure of the mental health care system here, but also have ongoing support for students and see it as an investment—a human investment—not a capital investment.”
According to university spokesperson Joe Cardona, the university has made a number of changes, improvements and additions to their Wellness Center services over the last three years. The struggle has remained to find a compromise between what students are demanding versus what the university is capable of providing.
“We’re not a full-service mental health facility, and that’s part of the struggle…We have 19,000 students. The national recommended average is one counselor per 1,500 students, so we’re on the top end of the average,” Cardona said. “At our university, we just can’t service everybody for four years while they’re here, so we have to provide close counseling with them to help them find resources. There’s a ton of options.”
Among these is the availability of crisis counseling, individual or group therapy and services related to alcohol and drug addiction. Other available options include the REACH crisis team for students in need of immediate service, 24/7 telehealth services, increased services for marginalized students, including the BIPOC Group and TransBody Positive Group, TogetherAll 24/7 peer-to-peer online support platform and pet therapy.
The university also released an extensive list of local therapists in Gloucester County and the surrounding areas in an email sent to the Rowan community last weekend. The email also stated that there are a variety of mental health accommodations that students can receive through the university.
“You can get accommodations through Accessibility Services for mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety,” the email read. “Accommodations can include consideration for absences or extended deadlines for assignments; an accommodation letter encourages faculty to meet your needs. To apply, contact Accessibility Services; instructions are on its website.”
According to Woodside, the Wellness Center currently employs 15 full-time counselors and has worked to expand the diversity of clinicians in an effort to better meet the needs of Rowan students. Despite rumors and critiques that have recently circulated on campus, Woodside said there are no wait-lists for students seeking counseling, noting that students are met with a counselor immediately when they come to the Wellness Center for resources, and a personalized plan of care is then created, based on an assessment of the student’s needs.
“We want to get students access to care as quickly as possible,” Woodside said. “We’ve added, and we’ll continue to add, counselors as needed…There’s so many things that we’re doing to help train the campus and communicate this culture of wellbeing. And we’re going to continue things like that because it’s important. We know it’s not just out of the Wellness Center. We know it takes a whole campus to respond and be reactive and proactive in terms of mental health.”
Woodside noted that a meeting with a few of the students who are demanding change is in the works for later this week in order to hear the concerns of passionate members within the Rowan community, develop a plan for compromise and properly address the gap between student expectations and university services.
There is no blanket solution to the mental health struggles that fill our campus daily. And while we certainly recognize that there’s always room for improvement, the university has resources available that have provided support to students who have reached out, seeking help. This recent tragedy has brought to light the alarming truth that not all who are struggling with their mental health struggle openly, and not everyone will ask for help. As a university and student body we must not assume that our friends, co-workers and classmates will seek out the help they need, but, instead, take it upon ourselves to be a support system among our peers.
The Whit staff sends our condolences to the student’s family and friends and encourages anyone struggling with their mental health to reach out to the Wellness Center, talk to friends, family or those close to you.
Rowan University Resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
LGBTQ Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
For those who identify as a person of color, text STEVE to 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor
For those who identify as Muslim, text SALAM to 741741 or 1-855-95-AMALA to connect with a trained crisis counselor
Crisis text line: you can text “hello” to 741741
Rowan Wellness Center Address:
201 Mullica Hill Road
Glassboro, NJ 08028
Wellness Center Phone Number: 856-256-4333
After hours emergency number: 856-256-4333 and press 3 or call Public Safety: 856-256-4911
Rowan’s Psychiatric Services
Rowan’s student mental health services
Schedule an appointment for counseling & Psychological services here.
Local therapists in Gloucester County and the surrounding areas.
National Helpline: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration – 1-800-662-4357
The LGBTQIA+ Center: 856-256-5495
For comments/questions about this story, tweet @TheWhitOnlineor email Thewhitopinion23@gmail.com.