Administrators have been receptive to the Student Wellness Project’s Wellness Summit Report, Wilfred Chan, CC ’13 and the group’s founder, said.
Released last week, the report recommended three major policy changes to help shift the culture of Columbia and improve student wellness on campus.
On Friday, SWP presented the report to Columbia College Dean James Valentini and discussed ways to move forward from these suggestions.
“This meeting was a culmination of a longer history of us working with Dean Valentini on wellness issues—he’s been there since the beginning of SWP,” Chan said. “He was excited to hear what we’d come up with.”
The report calls for a reform of the New Student Orientation Program, the implementation of a first-semester pass/D/fail policy, and a restructuring and expansion of Counseling and Psychological Services.
“For NSOP, he was very supportive of reform. We focused on how we can make orientation groups lead to more permanent friendships,” Chan said. The discussion, he explained, revolved around “making sure people in your group are people you’re going to be in proximity with in the future.”
Valentini even offered his own suggestion, Chan added. The dean proposed the idea of a parallel orientation that would group students by their academic interests, in the hopes that these groups might allow students to form bonds with others they are likely to see in classes after the orientation period ends.
The focus for NSOP, Chan said, should be on “communicating to students a different narrative, a healthier, more holistic narrative … talking about how can we communicate that success can take many different forms.”
The group also talked to Valentini about ways to help students access campus resources and navigate Columbia’s complex bureaucracy.
In addition to the meeting with Valentini, Steven Castellano, CC ’13 and SWP political committee chair, met with Dean of Community Development and Multicultural Affairs Terry Martinez on Thursday to discuss the report. Martinez, who will take over as interim dean of student affairs once Kevin Shollenberger leaves in May, said she too found the report’s NSOP recommendations compelling.
“We have been using this year to really take a look at our orientation and what improvements we can make, and so some of his recommendations were in alignment with some of the thoughts I had,” Martinez said of her meeting with Castellano.
Martinez raised some concerns about not knowing where all the information in SWP’s report came from, but said that she hopes to implement an evaluation of NSOP this year to gauge a wider student reaction.
“We need to create an evaluation moving forward for NSOP, which we don’t have,” Martinez said. “We had an evaluation of the orientation leader, but there hasn’t been an evaluation of the program, an assessment, a true assessment from students.”
She also said that in the past year, Community Development has been examining the messages that are sent to new students about NSOP, student wellness, and preparing for Columbia. This year, Martinez hopes to focus on evaluating the programmatic aspects of the week.
“Fundamentally, we need to be real clear about the outcomes and the goals of orientation, and create an assessment that is in alignment to ensure that we are reaching those goals,” she said. “We have come up with the goals of orientation, and so what I’m asking the staff to do is to take a look at all of the programs that are currently in orientation to see if we’re actually programming to meet the goals.”
Chan said Valentini expressed strong support for the first-semester pass/D/fail policy that the group recommended to reduce stress, which CCSC passed a resolution to support last month.
“I have brought the pass/fail proposal to the faculty Committee on Instruction, which is responsible for approving proposals for new majors and new courses as well as policy changes, and it will be discussed in the fall,” Valentini said in a statement Sunday night. “It is certainly something that they will consider. I will also speak with Health Services about the CPS changes that are recommended in the report.”
With regards to SWP’s recommendations for CPS, neither Valentini nor Martinez knew specific facts about the resource, but both expressed a desire to look into the issues presented in the report.
“I honestly don’t know the reality of the waiting times and what that is for our students,” Martinez said. “I do believe that students know the resource is there, and students are frustrated that they can’t tap into them when it’s most needed.”
She added, “I’m always concerned with this perception of this mandatory leave policy—that there’s a perception that we make students leave, which is inaccurate. And I don’t want students not to utilize the services because they think we’re going to force them to leave.”
Martinez was unclear about the specifics of the policy on Friday, and the Columbia Health website did not clearly display any information regarding the cap on the number of times a student can visit CPS before they must seek therapy elsewhere. Martinez said she would clarify the policy before elaborating her position on it.
Chan said that Valentini agreed he would like clarification on some of the policies at CPS.
“From our perspective as students, we believe that many people who work at CPS are excellent, but that the bureaucratic system is a problem,” Chan said. “We’re looking forward to working with them on this issue.”
While SWP’s report marks the beginning of a lot more work, Chan and administrators seem to be using this as a big moment for turning conversation into action.
“We definitely want to acknowledge that this hasn’t just been the work of SWP, but all the students, groups, and administrators who have participated in discussions about improving student wellness over the last year and a half,” Chan said. “We all know progress can be difficult or slow at Columbia, and this represents an important step forward.”