The St. Olaf Student Government Association SGA hosted another town hall style meeting on Tuesday, April 28. This session’s topic was “Student Rights and Responsibilities.”
SGA introduced these town hall style discussions earlier in the year in an attempt to foster conversations about campus issues among a diverse range of students, faculty and administrators.
“Students need access to a broad set of avenues for discourse and conversation. The Town Hall discussions offer yet another opportunity for students to ask questions to our community in a more informal setting,” Student Body President-elect John Bruer ’16 said. “We hope that these types of events not only help continue the conversations around different campus issues but connect students to other departments within the college that they may not interact with.”
Present at the meeting were a variety of students and SGA members, as well as a panel of faculty and students who were equipped to answer questions about student life and school policy. Included on the panel were Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Pamela McDowell, Vice President for Student Life Greg Kneser and college attorney Carl Lehmann.
The first discussion brought to the floor focused on thepenalty system and whether or not the alcohol policies are toovague. Student concern was that vague policies lead to biased judgements and stereotyping of students when punishments are doled out. McDowell responded to these concerns by saying that alcohol punishments and policies have become more specific over time to give students clear guidelines, but some policies stay open-ended in order to accommodate different situations.
Later, a student asked about a possible expansion of Boe House services. Boe House provides a variety of free counseling services to all St. Olaf students, including individual, group and nutrition counseling. She mentioned how the lengthy wait to see a counselor – about two or three weeks during spring finals time – was potentially harmful to students.
Kneser responded by explaining that the college does its best to provide mental health services to students and that expanding the program would require more money, which would come from either the students themselves, their insurance or the college. He also brought up the issue of rights and privilege surrounding St. Olaf students and mental health care.
“In the city of Northfield, somebody who is 19 years old and doesn’t go to St. Olaf or Carleton probably waits four weeks to see a counselor in town, if they can get in to see one, if they have health insurance,” Kneser said. “At St. Olaf, it’s a long wait to see a psychiatrist to get medication. Northfield does not have a psychiatrist. There is no psychiatric care for the residents in Northfield. So, a student at St. Olaf or Carleton has extraordinarily better access to mental health services than a young adult who lives right next door to anybody who lives off campus. That’s a real challenge…does a St. Olaf student have a right to mental health care that a 19-year-old person who lives across the street on St. Olaf avenue doesn’t?”
The conversations in the meeting tended to be direct question and answers, with the students raising questions and an administrator responding with little follow up, but there was some back and forth surrounding the issue of mental health.
“I really believe in the value of these Town Hall discussions, and William [Seabrook ’16, Student Body Vice President-elect] and I hope to see them continue to grow next year,” Bruer said. “We understand that community members may not always have a chance to ask all of their questions or receive answers that they are satisfied with, but these events encourage people to start conversations and offer an introduction to some of the relevant sectors of the college, such as the Dean of Students Office or Campus Safety.”