Wrong Decision Made on CAPS Counselor

By | May 2nd, 2015 | News & Views, web-featured

Students need to continue activism on issue

Following the administration’s denial of the request by the Ithaca College Faculty Council for funding to hire another staff member for the college’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, the campus community has express its disappointment with the administration’s decision, and rightfully so.

In response, a student-run, social media campaign called Get CAPS Ready has provided a place for students to express their discontent with the administration’s decision. The campaign’s petition, requesting the college re-evaluate its decision, received more than 700 signatures in its first 24 hours of circulation alone.

Although I am only a freshman, in my experience this year, Ithaca College students have shown a tendency to be apathetic when it comes to politics and activism. Whether it be the minimal amount of students who voted in the past year’s midterm elections, or the degree of student participation in the protests advocating for the creation of a structured Native American Studies minor, many students don’t seem to be bothered by issues that don’t directly impact them.

But it is evident from the rapid formation and support of the Get CAPS Ready campaign that students are leading on this issue and urging the college to actually make mental health a priority.

And while there is plenty to criticize regarding the administration’s decision, to the college’s credit, they are not completely ignoring students’ activism.

In a commentary in The Ithacan April 8, President Tom Rochon and Linda Petrosino, interim provost and vice president for educational affairs, responded to the CAPS controversy. Rochon and Petrosino wrote the college didn’t have enough resources to add a CAPS counselor. The two administrators said part of the decision was the cost of adding a counselor would have been levied on students through tuition payments. However, in the commentary, Rochon and Petrosino did acknowledge the student outcry over the decision and vowed to revisit the issue this summer.While it is encouraging the administration responded to student concerns, it is imperative both the college and the student body follow through on this issue. It is too easy for students to take the administration at its word and let the issue be moved to the backburner. There needs to be continued activism to ensure the administration realizes giving CAPS the resources it needs is important to students.

And so far students have demonstrated their commitment to this issue. Following the administration’s op-ed, the Get CAPS Ready campaign published a response letter to Rochon and Petrosino.

In the letter, the organizers of Get CAPS Ready wrote the op-ed was not the response the campus was looking for. The students argued it’s harmful to spend a long time considering improvements to an issue as immediate as mental health.

In addition, senior Jared Wolf sent an email April 15 to Rochon, Petrosino and Thomas Grape ’80, chair of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees, asking for the administration’s participation in an open forum event with representatives from CAPS and the administration talking to students on a panel.

However, in an email April 17, Petrosino wrote the administration was not interested in the open forum and directed Wolf to the administration’s op-ed. Petrosino also wrote there would be more specificity regarding CAPS when the administration re-examines the issue over the summer.

The administration’s curt response to a reasonable request by students to hold a panel cuts to the core of the problem. Mental health is an essential issue to address, especially in the environment of a college campus. And while the administration is doing the right thing by re-examining the issue, it was a wrongheaded decision in the first place to deny the request for an additional CAPS staff member, and the administration should have more appropriately responded to student interest in the issue.

The simple truth is CAPS needs additional staff, as some students have said the process of securing an appointment at the center can take weeks. For the administration to reject a request to address these delays is unacceptable.

CAPS can be, and should be, a resource for the entire campus community; not just for those who are depressed and/or suicidal, but also for others who just feel burned out.

However, following all the stories of students who have had to wait significant amounts of time for an appointment at CAPS, the result will be a student population that is less likely to request supportive services. Why go and seek help when everyone is telling you the place that can give it to you is backed up and will be for the foreseeable future?

Because of this, many students may believe they have to cope with mental health problems alone. And I think everyone can agree fewer people requesting psychological services, even though they need them, is not beneficial for a college.

The administration should have approved the CAPS request when it was first made and not agreed to only re-examine this issue after the barrage of complaints following the decision. If the administration claims students’ mental health is a top priority, these are the kind of choices that should be easy, regardless of the complexities of creating a higher education budget.

And this situation is not an isolated occurrence, but instead just the latest in a string of questionable decisions by the college. From its continued support of the Integrated Core Curriculum, despite the fact that it is wildly unpopular among students, to its tepid response to activism by the student body for the creation of a structured Native American Studies minor, the administration has shown a habit of ignoring student voices on these larger issues.

While thus far the signs are encouraging that the college will do the right thing and address the inadequate number of staff at CAPS, what is important is not what they say now, but what they do in the future.

And in the meantime, students must continue to push the administration to make the right choices, both on the CAPS issue and other problems on campus that are impacting the quality of education.

Evan Popp is a freshman journalism major who thinks Tom Rochon’s salary should be used to fund CAPS. You can email him at epopp@ithaca.edu.

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