Sasha Rivera SCR’19
Tragedy struck on Aug. 31, 2018 when a Harvey Mudd College student was found dead in his dorm room. That same day, Charlotte Johnson, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Scripps College, sent out an email to students expressing her condolences. Johnson supplied a list of mental health services,information about Scripps’ Primary Contact Deans, and upcoming health and wellness events. While Johnson’s email provided information about Scripps and 5C resources to the community, the tragedy at Mudd raises an important question: Is Harvey Mudd’s administration putting enough emphasis on the mental health of its students?
The Harvey Mudd College sit-in rally of April 2017 was an event that involved students from all of the Claremont Colleges. The event was sparked by a multitude of events: Qutayba Abdullatif (Dean Q), the Dean of Health and Wellness, had been placed on involuntary paid leave, both a Scripps student and Harvey Mudd student had recently passed away, and the leak of the Wabash report, a 2015 study done by HMC’s Teaching and Learning Committee to document how the college’s intense workload negatively impacted students. The report had only been shared with faculty, not the students, until it was leaked by The Student Life. More than 100 students from the college and allies from the other 5Cs protested in front of the Dean of Student Affairs Office. At the eight-hour sit-in, the students presented the HMC administration with a list of demands that critiqued the college’s current mental health policies and requested specific changes.
On this list, students stated that Mudd’s Administration and the Division of Student Affairs (DSA) needed to take measures to bolster mental health resources through better budget allocations, hire more mental health counselors (specifically counselors of color), and to increase its overall transparency. The list especially emphasized the need for the administration to improve its treatment of students of marginalized backgrounds.
During the rally, President Maria Klawe addressed the protesters and called an emergency meeting with the Board of Trustees, later presenting a proposal addressing the student demands.
HMC Dean of Students, Jon Jacobsen, emailed students with promises of an increased budget of $1,500 for student diversity groups, a release of the DSA’s own budget later in the month, and proposals of increased staff and funding for mental health resources both on and off-campus. Moreover, Klawe added $15,000 to the college’s mental health budget.
Now, almost two years later, the question still stands: has mental health at HMC improved? Have the administration and DSA fulfilled their promises of increased resources and transparency to students?
The answer is not a simple one of course, and involves many complications. According to an HMC student representative, the college has met the demands of increasing mental health service funding, allocating non-Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College (ASHMC) funds to the supporting affinity groups on campus, such as Black Lives at Mudd (BLAM), Society of Professional Latinos in STEMS (SPLS), Asian Pacific Islander Sponsor Program at Mudd (API-SPAM), Trans Home for Everyone (and You!) That Helps Every Mudder (THEY/THEM), People Respecting Identities and Sexualities at Mudd (PRISM), Feminist Empowerment at Mudd Union (FEMunion), and creating dedicated spaces for these groups in the Linde Activities Center. Moreover, the administration has attempted to help marginalized students more by directly communicating with them, particularly through Admissions, the Office of Institutional Diversity (OID), and various academic departments.
“HMC offers in-house counseling through ARC, and I believe there is still a fund that will cover copays and rides to and from mental-health related services. The division of student affairs will actually call you an Uber if you cannot pay the cost up front to be reimbursed,” Cassie Rossi HMC ‘21 said.
Moreover, the DSA will even call Uber rides if the student cannot afford the up-front cost of travel to be reimbursed.
“Of the students I know that are struggling with mental health at Mudd, around half use services provided by the school, and half see a provider outside of the school,” Rossi said. “Many students feel supported academically by professors and the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs as they go through a rough time…I truly believe that Mudd is doing much more than other universities as far as providing access to services.”
Both Rossi and the anonymous student representative agreed that Rae Chresfield and Michelle Harrison, the Associate and Assistant Deans of Health and Wellness, were good sources of support for students. However, the administration is still lacking in some ways. According to the anonymous student representative, Chresfield and Harrison are still just two people and it is therefore unreasonable to expect them to be able to properly assist the entire student body.
In addition, the problems don’t just lie with the administration, but with DSA and student leaders as well. Rossi said that the DSA budget breakdown was revealed after the sit-in, but the documentation about Dean Q’s termination was not, since the possible reasoning was revealed later; he had been sharing confidential information given to him by students with other students.
DSA still has not been investigated by an external committee as was requested in the 2017 list, specifically to address “Dean Jake’s handling of budget distribution and Dean Leslie’s handling of sexual assault cases and other interactions with students,” as stated in Demand Seven.
The student representative gave some critiques of the campus climate, from social systems to campus politics. They stated that the dorm culture was divisive and non-inclusive, that DSA and student leaders were often not in touch with actual student needs, and that many affinity groups had issues with gatekeeping and not sufficiently supporting the members. The student representative raised some concerns about the transparency and accessibility between the DSA and the general student body.
Both students concluded that the situation was complicated. There are several tangible things that HMC had done to improve student’s mental health. Of course, there are more changes that need to be addressed, both within the administration and the campus culture.
Rossi and the anonymous student representative both acknowledged the increase in discussion of mental health on the campus as a positive result of the 2017 sit-in.
“Overall, there seems to be a more open dialogue about mental health and wellness at Mudd,” Rossi said, “Personally, my mental health has gotten worse, but I was able to access treatment that has since made me a much more functional student in the Mudd environment,”
According to the interviewed students, after the recent tragedy the student body has truly come together to grieve. This unity has helped with the healing process and will hopefully improve overall student relations.
Whether the administration and campus organizations will take further actions to better mental health resources, transparency, and inclusivity is to be determined.
Image courtesy of Harvey Mudd College