1/6 – 1/12

Winter Issue of the Mary Christie Quarterly

We are pleased to present the first Mary Christie Quarterly of 2021, a year when the health and wellbeing of young people could not be more of a priority. This issue features: A cover story on how art is used in promoting wellbeing in college students, a profile of Health Advocacy Summit, a non-profit that supports students with rare and chronic diseases, a Q and A with Joanne Vogel, VP of Student Affairs at Arizona State University, a closer look at Camp Harbor View’s wraparound approach with students and families, the latest from the Student Flourishing Initiative, op-eds on mental health interventions on campus and risk factors in young adult suicide, profiles of remarkable people: Maya Enista Smith, Mitchell Greene and Gerri Taylor, and more. We hope you enjoy reading.

Mental and Behavioral Health

The Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State released its 2020 annual report, summarizing the state of college student mental health from counseling centers. Key findings from the report note that anxiety and depression continue to be the most common presenting concerns assessed by clinicians at counseling centers, but their rate of growth appears to be slowing. The report also shows that the rate of students who report having prior counseling continues to increase, with approximately 60% of students seeking services at counseling centers now reporting they have had prior mental health treatment.

Kansas City’s public radio station, KCUR, spoke with two University of Missouri Kansas City students about student leadership roles and mental health. Both spoke to the impact their decline in mental health had on their academics, and how their academic experience and performance were major factors in decision-making.

Dartmouth College begins its winter term with an increase in wellbeing services. According to The Dartmouth, a number of new counselors, more representative of the study body and well-equipped to support students of color, joined the counseling staff. In addition, Dartmouth loosened its policy on social interaction following complaints this fall and in anticipation of the cold months ahead in which outdoor gatherings may not be feasible. To encourage healthy social interaction and recreation, Dartmouth is installing two outdoor ice rinks and fire pits, while also grooming cross country ski trails and offering students access to sleds and snow tubes.  One student reported, “The school made it clear they were giving us resources– they had counseling available and support groups, and things like that– but I would like them to start addressing some of the factors that are really in their control,” such as financial aid and academic accommodations.

In a blog post for the Brookings Institute, writer and researcher Gregory Ferenstein argues that mental health innovation is important for economic recovery and upward mobility. He draws from his experience administering an economic pilot to help marginalized groups find high-tech careers, during which he witnessed disparities between students with access to subsidized mental health care and those without. He explains how “innovations and smart regulation” can improve mental health treatment access for marginalized groups.

Professors from Indiana University and Miami University of Ohio created an interdisciplinary group to support graduate students’ development. The creators imagined this “third space” as a place, in addition to the classroom and the lab, where students find resources, mentorship, and support as they navigate their education and position themselves for their next career steps. “Our hope in establishing that community was that by engaging across interdisciplinary lines, graduate students would build their professional identities, learn to communicate to people outside their primary disciplines and build connections that stretched across campus beyond their home labs and departments.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Race on Campus newsletter reports that students of color sometimes find it difficult to process emotions and experiences to their full extent when working with a white campus clinician. Despite efforts from many colleges and universities to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the counseling staff, students of color are still struggling. As the Steve Fund reported in 2020, students of color are more likely to be overwhelmed and less likely to seek assistance for mental health concerns than white students. Students of color often feel ignored or invisible in predominantly white institutions. The newsletter outlined a number of steps colleges can take to improve mental health support of students of color including: making students feel seen and heard by acknowledging the ways in which the institution has benefitted and/or continues to benefit from racism; Involving students of color in making meaningful campus change: Encouraging faculty and staff to clearly communicate resources available to students and connect them; Ensuring their counselors include providers well-versed in racial stress and trauma. This is the first of two Race on Campus newsletters investigating mental health for college students of color.

Basic Needs

According to Inside Higher Ed, food insecurity among college students is being exacerbated during the pandemic. Community colleges are working to meet the surge in demand for food and other basic needs however, admits staff, they are concerned about what will happen if the need doesn’t subside soon and what will happen post-COVID. Lou Anne Bynum, interim superintendent-president of Long Beach City College in California says, “Most of the needs were there before COVID. There’s been a growing demand over the last few years for basic needs. We have to rethink the ways that we provide services, and we have to make sure we’re on point with student needs.”

Researchers out of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice and George Mason University’s Department of Global and Community Health in the College of Health and Human Services looked at financial strain for women in college during their periods. They found that a quarter of college women experience “period poverty,” during which they cannot afford the necessary sanitary products for themselves when menstruating; the researchers note this often monthly strain impacts both physical and mental health.

Student Success

In an op-ed in the Hechinger Report, Jonathan S. Lewis, senior director of program design at uAspire, a nonprofit organization dedicated to college access and affordability, writes that amid the pandemic, college advisors are encountering additional barriers to helping their most vulnerable students remotely. These advisors typically help students complete critical tasks related to college admissions and financial aid. Lewis argues that while seeing students in person is irreplaceable, high-quality virtual advising can have a big impact at a low cost.

Coronavirus: Safety and Reopening

The CDC released data examining the rate of infection in communities with large institutions of higher ed and the differences between colleges with remote or in-person instruction. The findings show that, on average, communities with universities that taught in person saw a 56% increase in covid cases this fall, whereas those who opted for remote instruction experienced an 18% decrease in infection. The timing on the release of this data may predict pandemic developments as a number of schools invite back more students for in-person instruction this spring, or invite students back on campus for the first time this academic year.

Stanford has reversed plans to bring first and second-year students to campus for the upcoming winter quarter. “We are now at the worst point of the pandemic so far,” President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell wrote in the announcement. Forty three students recently tested positive with only a fraction of the students back on campus.

Policy and Politics

According to John Kroger, former president of Reed College and Vice President at the Aspen Institute, colleges and universities have approached conversations about current threats to democracy with caution in an attempt to remain value-neutral and to not risk any sources of funding by angering donors or government officials. Instead, they seek to equip students with the tools to process the information from the world around them and make independent decisions. Following the insurrection on the Capitol, many people inside of higher ed are calling on their colleagues and institutions to step up to a larger role in preserving democracy. In a piece titled “Colleges Share the Blame for Assault on Democracy,” Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, turns the lens on herself, her colleagues, and their institutions, reflecting the acceptance assumed by higher education’s silence amidst the lies and false, divisive rhetoric emanating from the nation’s leader and supporters. “Silence is the enemy of truth, and yet few college presidents dared to challenge this tsunami of official lies… So, in the face of the president’s acutely manipulative lies about the presidential election, it was no surprise that colleges remained on the sidelines, raising no voice in defense of democracy in a timely way, saying nothing about voter suppression, allowing the corrosive effects of the repeated lies to inflame those American who are especially susceptible to demagoguery. The mob gained its energy by coalescing around the lies. In our silence, we have allowed an even more insidious force to spread through the body politic– the racial animus and embrace of white supremacy that give so much energy to the mob.” President McGuire beseeches readers with a call to action, emphasizing the opportunity for higher education to redeem itself and recenter around its purpose under the Biden administration.

Higher education leaders across the country condemned the violent mob, while some called out the stark difference in police response to the Black Lives Matter protests. Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, an HBCU in Texas, wrote on Twitter, “It is impossible for me to understand the complete and total failure in security protocols that were on display today and not become angry,” Sorrell wrote. “Angry that our democracy was imperiled. Angry that people who are committing treason were treated better than Black people who simply wanted this country to acknowledge that our lives matter.”

Presidents and students at DC colleges and universities reacted with outrage at the violence in their backyards. John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, said he was stunned by the riot. “This was just a desecration.” Wayne A.I. Frederick, president of HBCU Howard University, who watched the events unfold with his 14-year-old daughter said they were both left “in a state of confusion.”

In an op-ed in Inside Higher Ed, William G. Tierney, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, praised individual college leaders for their condemnations of the desecration at the Capitol, but urged the American Council on Education and affiliates to stand up for democracy and  “call for the impeachment or removal of President Trump by the invocation of the 25th Amendment.”

In the Chronicle, Mitchell A. Orenstein, a  professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania, also called on college presidents, union and association leaders to call for Trump’s removal. “Colleges and universities have thrived in the United States under both Democratic and Republican presidents,” he writes. “But they will not survive under an authoritarian government that seizes power in a coup.”

In Diverse Education, Yves Salomon-Fernández, president of Greenfield Community College, voiced her belief that one of the narratives that powered last week’s insurrection and desecration of the Capitol is the idea that economically disadvantaged and rural white communities suffered when resources meant for white people were redirected to black and brown communities. In order to combat the long-standing divisions and building resentment in the US, Salomon-Fernández recommends an increase in college access for rural students; depoliticization of higher education (particularly being more welcoming of conservative views); regional, local and national dialogue on healing; public acknowledgement and dismantling of biases and inequities embedded into institutions; and changes to history curricula to tell more of the truth and to reduce inaccurate representation of minority groups.

A simulation developed by the American Council on Education predicts how much relief colleges could receive under the latest coronavirus legislation. The formula in the new legislation, which differs from the CARES Act, counts colleges full-time-equivalent enrollment and headcounts, giving part-time students more weight. This change will allow more community colleges to benefit from the funding.

In the wake of the dual wins in the Senate runoff races in Georgia,  Higher Ed Dive asks what a democratically controlled congress means for higher ed. More coronavirus aid and jumpstarting the economy is high on the priority list. With Democratic control of the Senate, Sen. Patty Murray (D, WA) now leads the health and education committee. Murray is a longtime advocate of college affordability, according to Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Attainment Network, a group that works to close equity gaps. However, Rebecca S. Natow, an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at Hofstra University, told the Chronicle that higher-education leaders shouldn’t expect a windfall of  higher-education legislation due to the filibuster, which allows senators to indefinitely delay a final vote on a bill if it does not reach the 60-vote threshold.