Open Forum Between Students and Administration Held During Senate Meeting to Address Mental Health

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to accurately reflect the academic standing of the students involved in the story.

On Monday, Nov. 1, Rowan students and staff were struck by the news that Rowan had lost another member of its student community, resulting in a rise in outrage and concern over Rowan’s ability to tackle mental health issues on campus as well as subsequent protests regarding the issues at hand.

This sadness, heartbreak, outrage and concern all came to bear during the Student Government Association’s (SGA) senate meeting.

Monday, Nov. 8, the SGA Executive Board published an email announcing that they would be extending the portion of the Senate reserved for student concerns to allow for more students to voice their thoughts and feelings to the board and to Rowan administration. 

For an hour and a half, students lined up to speak on topics such as personal mental health struggles, concerns with Rowan’s mental health policy and suggestions for improvement.

The forum began with Senator-at-Large Raymond Wos Jr., a Senior history major who gave an address to the SGA Board and Rowan administration as well as presenting a list of demands signed by himself and over 90 other students.

“We would like these demands to be met immediately,” Wos said. “This is very vital to our community and very important, and I am willing to work with anyone… to make sure that these demands are met.”

One matter that elicited significant outrage from students was Rowan’s response to the events of the last week. 

The first email from Rowan’s administration acknowledging what had happened came five days after the event took place. Many students at the meeting were quick to note that Stockton University was quicker to respond to Rowan’s perceived mental health crisis than Rowan.

However, the university’s position is that the family and friends of the student were the utmost priority of the school and therefore they were alerted before the general Rowan community.

Also concerning to a large portion of the student body was the claim made by Rowan’s administration in an Instagram post that “inaccurate information” was being spread about Rowan’s mental health resources. Senior radio, television and film major Josh Gras was one of them.

“If you look at the comments of that very Instagram post that [Rowan] posted,” Gras said, “The vast majority of them are saying they [students] are not experiencing the things that Rowan is saying they should be. There are wait times that [Rowan] specifically notes that there is not. So they’re basically trying to gaslight students into believing that these things are not occurring when they obviously are.”

Even former students, such as Nat De Kok, had points to address during the Senate meeting.

“The university is essentially just betraying us by telling us that there is no waitlist because there 100% is,” De Kok said.

Alex Quinn is a freshman majoring in musical theatre. Quinn echoed the concerns and frustrations of his peers.

“I think that they really, really did a number on people when talking about misinformation being spread because that whole entire post was misinformation,” Quinn said. “You can see clearly on the website what the hours of the Wellness Center are, and what the mental health facilities provide, and then see how that doesn’t line up with what they say in the post.”

Wellness Center Director Scott Woodside defended the decision to highlight the alleged spread of misinformation in the university-wide email and social media posts. 

“There are things that were put out there on social media… that didn’t speak to the reality of what we offer,” Woodside said. “We felt it was important to really get a robust list of what’s offered on campus… Students who want to see a counselor can absolutely see a counselor. We do not keep waitlists, but we do refer right away. Let’s say we don’t have any openings immediately. We’ll connect them with someone where there are openings. Now maybe there’s insurance involved, or maybe not, but we want to connect them immediately.”

Many general attendees who came to the Senate meeting took the floor to voice their concerns. One, who introduced themself as Michelle, spoke out candidly about their experiences with the Wellness Center.

“I understand that everything we’re demanding is a process,” Michelle said. “I was lucky enough that I had a therapist at home–until I lost my insurance coverage and he referred me to the Wellness Center… I understand that finding more help can be hard, but I’ve heard students share their experience with not having access to treatment off-campus.”

Junior Evan Grollman, the senator for Rowan Hillel, also took the floor to discuss his concerns about the Wellness Center’s operations.

“If we are going to be running this like a business–hospitals are businesses too and I think that if a hospital kept someone waiting for a month they’d be the subject of a lawsuit. That bothers me,” Grollman said.

Retired Master Sergeant Joe Gonzalez dedicated 22 years of his life to military service. Now an athletic training student at Rowan, Gonzalez felt it was necessary to take this opportunity to speak openly about how his service impacted his mental health, and how he believes Rowan can do better.

“Sometimes we try to just be there for everybody, but we’re not there for ourselves and we get so overwhelmed with everybody else’s issues that we forget about our own, and we hit the breaking point. That’s pretty much what happened to me,” Gonzalez said. “There [were] nights where I would put my son to sleep and have to go take somebody to the hospital for suicidal ideations. You’re probably talking about every other night that there was something going on where I had to respond, had to make sure that I was taking care of other people, which affected me not being able to take care of myself and my family.”

Gonzalez was one of the many students in attendance not only sharing their experiences, but also trying to encourage real change from the university. 

“I just think [Rowan] can do more with the advertising, and providing products out there. I think number one would be training students to be good peers, to be able to recognize that stuff, and to know exactly the steps they need to take,” Gonzalez said.

Over 90 minutes of student testimony left students and administrators alike feeling deeply moved. But students were torn if it provided the necessary momentum for the change they were asking for.

“I felt like, overall, the meeting went well but however it could have been more productive in the sense that… there is still more that needs to be done in general,” Wos said after the meeting.

Listening to students share their stories was also deeply impactful for Rowan’s Dean of Students, Dr. Kevin Koett.

“I’m surely always motivated to do things differently, and that was the power of listening to all of the great student comments tonight,” Dr. Koett said. “Many of them broke my heart and hurt me as a human being… so I’m motivated on their behalf to try and make things better.”

In a statement to the Whit, the SGA E-board members emphasized their commitment to listening to the student body and affirming the importance of student mental health.

“The Student Government Association is here to listen to all of our students and we are glad that we could facilitate that on Monday,” they said. “As individuals, it gave us perspectives from students and we found it difficult to hear some of the experiences that our fellow students have had to face. As students, we can relate to some of the stories that students were sharing and we look forward to working with students and administrators to see what we can improve upon.”

Over the next few weeks, students will wait with bated breath to see whether any of the demands they worked hard to bring to the Senate floor will come to fruition. 

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