Quadcast Episode 10: Emerson College President Lee Pelton
In our final Quadcast episode of 2020, President Lee Pelton of Emerson College spoke about student mental health, the pandemic, dismantling systemic racism and enhancing equity in higher education.
“It’s clear that the triple pandemic of Covid-19, economic devastation, and the very public exposure of the structural racism and systemic racial inequities and barriers that have kept some of our students and of course some of our citizens in the nation from fully participating in American democracy has had a profound and jarring effect on our students, who exhibit in varying degrees just enormous mental fatigue, frustration, a sense of isolation — especially students who are studying remotely by themselves, sometimes in very unfavorable conditions and circumstances,” says President Pelton. “So colleges and universities need to be — and I hope that we are –more attentive to our students, understanding that their needs are really very acute and urgent.”
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Mental and Behavioral Health
The Nevada Independent highlighted the pandemic’s impact on University of Nevada students’ mental health. One student told the newspaper, “Now I’m just alone through it all. Even if there are people on the screen, and we can text each other and support each other virtually – but it’s so different. And it really compounds all of the kind of existing struggles that I have to deal with in order to just, like, literally get out of bed.” Another explained that she feels like she is just going through the motions during online classes.” Chancellor Melody Rose said that mental health has been “top of mind.” “We should not assume that the students returning this fall, or their faculty and staff for that matter, are unchanged by this experience,” she said. “We should not assume that they enter into our classroom spaces, and onto our campuses, unaffected by COVID. And we need to be proactive in thinking about the ways in which we’d have all been indelibly changed by this experience.”
The State Press, Arizona State University’s student newspaper, explored how counseling services have helped students cope with their mental health amid the pandemic, acting as a bridge to longer term support. Erin Trujillo, director of ASU Counseling Services, said its focus is on immediate action, which sometimes means referring students out of the center. “Our capacity supports a brief model of services for as many students as we can serve,” Trujillo said. “This fall, we have focused on immediate access to care. We are always thinking about how to build a model that meets as many needs as we can within the student population.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer writes that some college faculty, overwhelmed by their students’ added stress and mental health needs, are experiencing burnout and anxiety. “It’s our job to get students to learn,” Donald Wargo, a Temple University professor, told The Inquirer. “And when our students are stressed from other things like social isolation or living at home that interfere with their learning, we are stressed.” A survey published in November by Course Hero, an education technology website, found that, out of 570 faculty respondents, more than half reported a significant increase in emotional drain and work-related stress from the beginning of the pandemic. President of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties said, “In a situation like that, burnout can happen because you go in every day trying to make a difference, trying to help. But then it feels like you’re swimming against a huge tide. It feels like you’re not making a difference, and you can’t leave that baggage at the office. It gets to a point when you’re just overwhelmed. That’s leading some people to question, ‘How long is this going to go on? Is this something that’s still meaningful to me?’ ”
A new study from Washington State University found that the context for social media use among student-athletes has a greater influence on their mental health than the amount of time spent using it. According to the study, student-athletes’ perception that social media might be interfering with their relationships, sleep, or academic success was related to negative indicators of well-being, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. “A user’s perception of their social media use and the importance it has in their daily life is particularly telling,” said Chris Barry, psychology professor and principal investigator for the project. Additionally, more than 60% of student-athletes reported engaging with one or more social media applications within 15 minutes before bed, which was correlated with increases in loneliness and poor sleep.
The University of Delaware Daily reports on Peer 24, a new peer-based mental health program that aims to increase access to services and reduce stigma. UD students who have navigated their own mental health or substance abuse issues have been trained to help their peers with similar experiences. “The University provides several options to students who need mental health support and services. Peer 24 does not replace those necessary, clinical supports, but rather offers a complimentary service to students who may just need someone with lived experience to talk to and confide in,” said Rita Landgraf, director of the Partnership for Health Communities, who serves as the strategic lead for the initiative.
The NCAA issued a statement granting blanket eligibility to all transfer student-athletes in Division I sports. “In a time of great uncertainty amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel it is in our best interest to grant immediate eligibility for those who have transferred in order to best support their mental health and well-being,” said Caroline Lee, vice chair of the Division I Student-Athletic Advisory Committee. Normally, transfer students must sit out for one year before they are eligible to compete at their new institution.
Coronavirus: Safety and Reopenings
The Florida Gators have been under close scrutiny after basketball player Keyontae Johnson collapsed in a game on December 12. Johnson is said to be recovering but many are still reeling, wondering if his collapse was correlated with his COVID-19 infection over the summer. In an effort to protect student-athletes’ privacy, Florida has yet to release any conclusive statements on the question. However, other coaches, including two other Southeastern Conference basketball coaches, commented that if there was a connection between his infection and his collapse, coaches and athletes across the country would want to know.
According to University of Houston men’s basketball coach Kelvin Sampson, every member of the team has had COVID-19 since the school began testing in the summer. “All 15 players,” Sampson said.
Research out of the University of Kentucky suggests that asymptomatic students may only need a seven-day quarantine window as long as they test negative on the fifth day or later. This would greatly impact colleges and universities for the upcoming term as students return or move in for the first time this academic year. “Isolation, including prolonged quarantine, may have significant negative impacts on college students’ mental health. Shortening that window could be beneficial for our students,” said Jill Kolesar, PharmD, administrative director of UK’s Precision Medicine Clinic and the principal investigator of the study.
Institutions of higher education across the country and the world have struggled to adequately address all aspects of students’ wellbeing this fall. In the Chronicle, a student at Cornell University detailed her trying experience falling ill with the coronavirus and attempting to communicate with healthcare professionals and administrators regarding implemented precautions, all while fighting a serious illness largely on her own. Her experience challenges the risk management mindset many large organizations, including colleges and universities, have adopted during the pandemic. “Maybe a college and university would be happy if only one student died from Covid,” said Cornell student Stella Linardi. “But that’s someone’s life, and that can be me.”
Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education are jointly urging colleges and universities to consider delaying the return of students to campus since hospitalizations “could peak in January and February.” A number of institutions including the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and Penn State University pushed the spring semester start date, or will start the semester relying on remote instruction.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
In the Washington Post, Rafael Jenkins, a Virginia Military Institute basketball recruit, recounts his experience with racism at the military school, which culminated in his expulsion. According to data obtained by The Post, between the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2020, though Black cadets made up about 6% of the student body, they represented about 43 percent of those expelled due to honor code violations. VMI is currently under investigation for structural racism.
In opening the Chronicle‘s virtual panel discussion, ‘Race, Class, and Campus Climate,” Michael Sorrell, JD EdD, the president of Paul Quinn College asked ‘Is inclusion even possible?’ The provocative question launched an hour discussion among college leadership exploring the critical topic.
Last week, Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the world’s 18th-richest person, revealed that she donated more than $800 million to colleges, focusing on institutions serving minority and low-income students. The donations included gifts to more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities, as well as community and technical colleges and schools serving Native Americans.
The social media platform TikTok announced that it was donating $10 million to ten colleges and universities serving underrepresented populations to provide scholarships for students pursuing medical or other health-related careers.
Higher Ed Dive reports on efforts to help students access classes online, closing the digital divide with free laptops and WiFi hotspots. “The use of technology in education has become a necessity but access to it has fallen short,” said Marshall Anthony Jr., a senior policy analyst at the think tank the Center for American Progress. Washington State University administrators have paid for Wi-Fi coverage for more than 900 students after classes moved online earlier this year using federal coronavirus relief funds, but are unsure how they will continue to afford it. Emily Bouck West, deputy executive director of Higher Learning Advocates, a bipartisan higher ed policy group said that some colleges have worked with telecommunication companies to get their students low-cost broadband or other internet services. Washington State University’s vice provost for system innovation and policy Craig Parks said, “We’re to the point where broadband approaches electricity as a necessary resource. For higher ed, we can’t educate people if we can’t interact with them.”
The pandemic has caused a significant drop in students from rural communities attending college. According to the Hechinger Report, institutions serving rural areas saw declines in the number of first-time students this fall and early indicators suggest an even smaller proportion plan to enroll next year.
Congress passed a $900 billion coronavirus relief proposal that includes nearly $23 billion for colleges and universities. Of that money, $17 billion will go directly to individual institutions, which are required to spend at least half on student financial aid. Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education said the funding amount is “wholly inadequate.” Higher ed groups asked for at least $120 billion to cover lost revenue and new pandemic-related expenses. The stimulus bill includes higher education measures like further simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application process, forgiving federal loans held by historically black colleges and universities, significantly expanding the Pell Grant program for low-income college students and restoring Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center‘s latest survey shows that total enrollment across higher education is down 2.5%, but revealed significant variation across institution type and student groups. Enrollment among undergraduates dropped 3.6% from the fall of 2019. The newest data confirms that community-college enrollment has been heavily affected. Enrollment at public two-year colleges decreased 10.1%. Enrollment dropped more for men than women – 5.1% vs. 0.7% respectively for women. The drop in first-time freshmen enrollment was 13.1%. The Hechinger Report focused on decreases in vocational degrees including precision production, engineering technology, mechanics, homeland security, law enforcement and firefighting programs was down 15 percent, which amounts to almost 30,000 fewer students nationally. “These are hands-on fields which are difficult to teach online,” said Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
According to the National College Attainment Network’s FAFSA Tracker, about one in four high school seniors nationwide filled out their FAFSA, down 14% from 2019. The decline was sharper for low-income students and those from high schools with high shares of Black and Hispanic students. Higher Ed Dive offered advice from college access experts on how to reach students to reverse this trend, including using social media, expanding the applicant pool to older students, connecting potential applicants with current students, and simplifying the financial aid application process.
A new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs reveals that amid the pandemic, the quantity of alcohol consumed by students decreased significantly if they went from living with peers to living with parents. According to the report, student alcohol users who moved from living with peers to parents decreased the number of days they drank per week from 3.1 to 2.7. Those who remained with peers increased drinking days per week from 3 to 3.7, and those remaining with parents increased from 2 to 3.3 per week. The total number of drinks per week for students who moved in with their parents went from 13.9 to 8.5, while those continuing to live with peers continued to drink essentially the same amount. Students who continued living at home drank almost three drinks per week more.
The New York Times reports that federal prosecutors have charged 21 people, including current and former students at Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Appalachian State University, with dealing large amounts of marijuana, cocaine and other drugs on campus and in fraternity houses. According to Matthew G.T. Martin, the United States attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, those charged were part of a sophisticated network. The defendants used encrypted apps and electronic payment methods and laundered profits, which exceeded $1.5 million.
A group of Northeastern University students created Northeastern Mutual Aid to support their peers struggling with food insecurity as demand for basic needs support rises across the country. Over the summer, the founders took a one-credit Northeastern class focused on community engagement in the covid landscape and saw an opportunity to support their community. Northeastern Mutual Aid gets food from Fair Foods, an organization that repurposes unused edible foods from local groceries and restaurants and distributes it among those in need. The Mutual Aid founders say that stigma and shame associated with needing food assistance may prevent many from seeking out assistance and/or speaking about their needs to friends and others