Forum highlights personal wellness

Jonathan Carreon/Contributing Editor
Vice President of Campus Affairs Michael Murphy (right) hosted a VP/CFO search town hall last month. (credit: Jonathan Carreon/Contributing Editor) Jonathan Carreon/Contributing Editor Vice President of Campus Affairs Michael Murphy (right) hosted a VP/CFO search town hall last month. (credit: Jonathan Carreon/Contributing Editor)

In response to January’s Town Hall on Carnegie Mellon culture, the student government — in conjunction with the department of student affairs — devised a strategy to combat the issues discussed. An event organized by Students for a Deliberative Democracy (S4DD) was held in the University Center’s Rangos Hall last Tuesday.

The purpose of the event, according to S4DD’s program manager and Ph.D. candidate in rhetoric Tim Dawson, was to “bring together multiple voices, multiple perspectives” and to facilitate conversation on campus stress culture.

Meela Dudley, student body vice president and creative and professional writing double major, said that January’s Town Hall “opened the flood gates of conversation.” After the Town Hall, Dudley said that student government needed “a stricter way to collect that data, but we still wanted to have a face-to-face conversation, rather than a survey.”

The event was based on a structure developed by S4DD meant to “bring more inclusive conversation to campus,” according to Justin Mando, a Ph.D. candidate in rhetoric and an officer in S4DD.
Around 80 people attended the event, Mando said.

“We asked anyone who would be interested in attending to fill out a survey form that asked why they want to attend, rate how big an issue it is, say what they think of the issues at play. We had a really big response from this, but it was also a manageable response, so we randomly selected constituents to try and get the most diverse response,” Dudley said.

S4DD, Dawson said, “helped develop surveys, helped develop background materials, helped them structure the event; we helped train moderators and note -takers.”

At the roundtable event, small discussion groups of seven or eight people were hosted at each table, assisted by a moderator and recorded by a note-taker. Afterward, there was a resource panel and a Q&A session. These mixed groups of undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty discussed questions such as “How do we maintain our high standards of a rigorous curriculum and cultivate a stronger ethic of care and community support for each other?” and “Why might students feel they need to navigate challenges without seeking help?” The questions addressed issues in the realms of academic environment, personal wellness, and how the Carnegie Mellon community defines success.

Thomas Klein, a sophomore computer science major who attended the event, talked about some of the issues discussed, such as the role of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

“One of the big issues was with CAPS; people were confused about its role, what it’s supposed to provide. Another issue was student-faculty relationships — is it okay to reach out to students, if students want that? Both students and faculty agreed that it would be beneficial to have this stronger bond.”

Klein said that he thought the event was “overall pretty helpful.”

Gina Casalegno, dean of student affairs, said that there are several measures already being put into effect. “The health center is offering a pilot group discussion program at the end of the semester. Not group therapy, but more like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings; much more a peer support group than directed group therapy. ”

Casalegno also discussed other measures already put in place to combat stress culture outside of student affairs and student government. “In some residence halls, RAs and CAs have started weekly discussion groups…. There are many grassroots experiences that are occurring in residence hall and Greek life communities.”

Casalegno talked about the academic side of the issue. “We’re trying to see what we can be doing from an advising side, what we can do to help students with course registration, see how [students] sequence courses or put courses together in a current semester — see if we are still capturing the right workload with course credits.”

Dudley also mentioned the student government’s plan to work with organizations already trying to combat stress culture. “We wanted to make sure those groups that already had ideas on how to help stress had support, and that people knew what they were doing, as well as the resources that were being made available to students....The student government is currently working on putting together a database of those organizations. We’re working with CAPS right now and Health Services to make a place on the Internet where there can be a directory of all these kinds of resources.”

There will also be, Dudley said, a fund for organizations with ideas to combat stress culture. “It’s kind of like a grant fund where organizations can apply to the dean’s office, but you can apply with proposals, specific projects that you want funding for that will attack this issue. Anyone can apply for it.”

When asked about future events, Dudley was clear that they would be diverse. “Yes, we’re going to have to try to have more Town Halls, but we’re also going to balance it with these more moderated discussion events that provide more organized and concrete data for addressing exactly what these problems are.”

Casalegno followed up with the information that “we are not planning any additional deliberate democracy groups, but we haven’t made the decision that we won’t have any more in the future.”
The results of Tuesday’s event will be compiled and analyzed to come up with measures to address problems within campus culture.

“We’re compiling the answers — what are the core issues and what thoughts do people have about which areas we should most directly focus on as their immediate priorities,” Casalegno said.