Op-ed: Dear SGA, Dean of Students, Higher Administrators & Board of Trustees…

Ryan Thiel and Raymond Wos Jr. during the open forum held at the SGA senate meeting Monday night. - Multimedia Editor / Alex Rossen

Editors Note: The following is an op-ed submitted by Raymond Wos, Jr., Student Government Association senator-at-large and vice-chair and member of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Whit and its staff.

What is the definition of mental health? The official definition from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), states the following: Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and/or make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Since the majority of our university has students, staff, and faculty that are in adolescence and adulthood, it is becoming a very prominent and well-known issue right now throughout the campus. This is highly alarming due to the recent events that happen during this year’s Halloween weekend.

Rowan University’s responses toward previous mental health crises on campus have not been effective enough. Now, in a post-quarantine world, mental health is more important than ever. The recent death of a fellow student on Nov. 1 has reminded us of that.

Students have been organizing to take major action since 2018. They have been pushing for Wellness Center resources and mental health care changes for several years and haven’t seen enough change despite their best efforts.

In 2018, Student Government Association proposed a healthcare resolution dubbed “Rowan Well”, which aimed to provide the wellness center with 12 new employees. This resolution was voted down by the Senate, but not without criticism from students.

Hillary Gooding, a senior at the time, felt as if the SGA didn’t vote for the student body as a whole. They didn’t really think about people; they were just kind of thinking about themselves. Along with Gooding’s concern, another senior, Curtis Gunter, took notice that there was a lack of communication between the E-board members and the senate. He stated that “If they [SGA] knew that something was going to be brought up, they would’ve at least had the information in front of them.”

During Spring of 2019, in an attempt to fix the mistakes made in 2018, there was a second vote for a solution similar to “Rowan Well.” This vote ended in a 378 to 378 vote, ultimately leading to billing students for service (i.e. copays and charging insurance) at the Wellness Center or instituting a wellness fee to be added to the term bill. Each of us pays a $30 Wellness Fee as part of our tuition. The student body wants to know how this money is being spent.

Now on Nov. 5, 2021, the former president of SGA, Rbrey Singleton, made a statement on Facebook reflecting on the events in 2018. Surprised that students are still fighting for change three years later, he states that because of college politics, the “Rowan Well” solution was tanked by the rest of the team and was ultimately voted down. He follows this statement up by calling out the authorities, telling them to stop playing politics with people’s lives.

The SGA in the past has helped make part of our tuition money fund the Wellness Center. If our money is going towards the Wellness Center, why do so many students find it difficult to receive counseling? The Wellness Center is incredibly understaffed.

A 2020-2021 report states that there are 19,678 students enrolled on campus, 15,963 being undergraduate students. According to the International Accreditation of Counseling Services, they stated the following: “The average ratio of mental health professionals to students as reported in the National Survey of Counseling Center Directors (2013) is 1 to 1,600.” At our university there is 1 counselor to 1,250 students, but with 16 counseling and psychological service staff that is insufficient. Clearly, that is too much for one staff member to handle, so as a university and a community, now is the time to take immediate action – to make a change.

As the student body, we would like to see the financial budget that goes into all aspects of the Wellness Center. We want services expanded. We want more counselors hired. We want to have all of our staff, faculty and administrators to be trained in mental health issues. We want to be in all the conversations that the administration and SGA discuss on the mental health crises on our campus. 

Another concerning issue rose up on Nov. 4, there was a Rowan Announcer titled, “[EXTRA – Students] Stay focused, stay healthy”, it states, in a very brief paragraph at the end of the email: 

“Seek Help

If you or someone you know are feeling overwhelmed and would like to talk with a counselor, please call the Wellness Center at 856-256-4333. Crisis counseling is available 24/7. The Wellness Center is open for walk-in appointments Monday through Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m, Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.”

The Rowan Announcer has been completely pitiful with its response to this mental health crisis. There is not enough effort put towards promoting mental wellbeing at this time.

If higher administration and the Board of Trustees hold mental health as a high priority, they need to reflect that by increasing funds towards the Wellness Center.

Again, two days later on Nov. 6, Rowan Announcer titled “[EXTRA – Students] We are here to help” provided a list of resources to the university community that are offered and can help us. The email, which came five days after the student body learned of the suicide, claimed that students were spreading misinformation.

What, specifically, was the misinformation that was being spread? Why hasn’t Rowan corrected it? Also, the list of mental health resources should have been provided in the original email that was sent out on Nov. 4. Instead, it was briefly tacked on at the end of the email.

In conclusion, the mental health crisis on campus is very real and needs all the support it can get, university-wide. The core values of our institution don’t currently reflect the student body’s need for easier access to care. Rowan’s negligent management of mental health is leaving us all in the dark. Now, we need to come together to be the light that makes a change.

“Everyone faces stress and anxiety, but no one must face it alone,” Rowan University said in a recent Instagram post. If that’s the case, let’s make mental health resources easier to access on campus than ever before.

Demanding Change for Rowan’s Mental Health Resources: https://tinyurl.com/RUMETNALHEALTHPETITION

Read the full letter and list of demands here.