Columbia's Campus on a sunny day, looking northwest from near Hamilton Hall

A happy community is a healthy community

Last night, Bwog senior staff writer Ross Chapman sat in on the semester’s second CCSC meeting. The main discussion was one that the student body has been increasingly pushing for: productive ways to increase and sustain mental health on Columbia’s campus.

Columbia College Student Council dedicated Sunday’s general body meeting to mental health, and encouraged students to come to discuss practical policy changes that would benefit the community. Even with the lure of light refreshments from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, few extra students came to voice their opinions—two GSSC representatives in the gallery accompanied two CC students and two administrators, including Dean Cristen Scully-Kromm. This would not deter CCSC from taking the missions of aiding student mental health and running with it. Their enthusiasm brought them 40 minutes over the allocated hour and a half, and CCSC ended the meeting with far more vague propositions than they had concrete plans to move forward.

CCSC spent about twenty minutes on updates, the full content of which is available after the jump. Most notably, Abby Porter reported that CCSC received tampons and pads last week for use in their gender-neutral menstrual health campaign, which circumvents the current process of receiving free tampons and pads in the Columbia Health offices on the third floor of John Jay. The next twenty minutes were dedicated to small breakout groups for brainstorming ways to help students with mental health. Specifically, they wanted to talk about suicide. CCSC did not shy away from the word, which rarely appears in statements from Dean Valentini or President Bollinger. When the general body reconvened, they went 70 rows deep into a spreadsheet listing possible solutions, which will be made available along with the meeting’s minutes.

Many representatives believed that increasing the availability of trained assistance would help the student body. Increased CPS and Nightline hours, additional training for RA’s and academic advisers, and the introduction of wellness advisers and peer counselors all came up as possibilities. Others wanted to eliminate stressors: reduced penalties for unexcused absences (especially in Core classes), a larger grace period than 24 hours for moving out after your final exam, and a reduction of required graduation credits were just some ideas floated at the meeting. Increasing the credit count of classes, one representative noted, would make the four-class semester a practical reality for students who did not have abundant access to AP exams, easing the course load on students who also have to work jobs to attend Columbia. None of these mentioned plans, nor any other ideas proposed Sunday night, were acted upon. Nicole Allicock referred to this as an “incubator-style meeting,” which will assist a task force in figuring out exactly what to do.

Some representatives saw “falling through the cracks” as the greatest mental health risk on campus. They proposed community building as the solution—Student Assistants (“in between a student and an RA”) came up, as well as increased programming and communication from RA’s and the class councils. However, the final points of the meeting brought the conversation back to two much more concrete risk factors for suicide: minority status and mental illness. To increase the quality of life for students of color and the LGBTQ community, one representative referred to the current CCSC initiative to create identity-specific student lounges in Lerner, as well as a need for Muslim and Native American religious life advisers. Finally, Christian Eggers, CC ’20, came up as a guest of the 2020 class council to deliver a theatrical speech urging CCSC towards action. Concretely, he recommended mental health phone apps, a student mental health survey (which was last biannually administered in February 2015 by the American College Health Association), and an end to templated student death emails.

As for this weeks’ updates:

  • Policy: Tampons and pads have arrived for use in CCSC’s plans to provide tampons and pads in all bathrooms, regardless of gender. Abby Porter was happy to report that the program was highlighted in an article on free tampons in Vice.
  • Campus Life: Glass House Rocks is almost ready to go, and it will take place on Thursday at 8 pm. Next up on the fun docket is laser tag and the silent disco.
  • Communications: Faculty diversity data has arrived for all departments. The Columbia Spectator will use that data in an upcoming article.
  • Finance: CCSC wants to create a Student Travel Fund, based off of the SEAS Dean Travel Fund, for competitions and conferences. They are also working on a Student Events Fund.
  • Class of 2020: The distribution of class shirts has been delayed by a week because of “recent events.” The class council is in the process of acquiring software to help a student make a computer program for an upcoming class-wide game of Assassins.
  • Class of 2019: The sophomore class will distribute winter hats on Tuesday. They are also working with CPS to try to create an event for the class around wellness. Finally, they are pushing the Arts Initiative for more museum partnerships.
  • Class of 2018: The junior class council is shoring up details for the upcoming boat cruise.
  • Class of 2017: The recent Lunar Gala event was “a smashing success.”
  • Senate: The University Senate has presented documents to President Bollinger about suicide prevention and the creation of a stronger community with more compassion towards students. The next Senate Plenary is on Friday, February 3rd.
  • Student Services: There is a new student services representative, Ethan Park, replacing Andy Truelove and co-chairing with Sam Safari.
  • Pre-Professional: A new infographic is in the works on underrepresented industries. Information on LSAT waivers is coming soon.
  • CCSC is overseeing meetings between Columbia and Aetna to work on more inclusive dental coverage.
  • ESC has signed off unanimously on two CCSC members’ plans to push the University for LGBTQ and POC spaces in Lerner Hall.