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Campus Life Council provides end-of-year update on housing system, mental health

| Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Campus Life Council (CLC) presented reports on rector turnover, student mental health and the current system of housing to University leaders Monday night.

In attendance were vice president for student affairs Fr. Gerry Olinger, associate vice president for Residential Life Heather Rakoczy Russell, associate vice president for student development Brian Coughlin, director of Campus Ministry Fr. Pete McCormick and director of the Center for Student Support and Care Margaret Morgan. Student body president Patrick Lee, vice president Sofie Stitt and chief of staff Nicole Baumann were also present.

Former student body president and CLC chair Allan Njomo said the council had split into three subcommittees this year and introduced the first committee to present. 

Junior Benjamin Erhardt, former Keough Hall senator, and senior Caroline Cameron, former Hall Presidents Council (HPC) co-chair, discussed their subcommittee’s findings on the residual and continuing effects of the pandemic. 

Cameron discussed rector turnover, explaining that the higher-than-average turnover rate could not be attributed solely to the pandemic. She pointed out that rectors said they were concerned about their mental and physical health. Although the subcommittee offered no specific recommendations, Cameron said she wanted to highlight that finding.

Cameron also identified a decline in the number of resident assistant (RA) applicants, which are down from around 300 to around 250 over the past two years. She said this was largely because RAs had gone from building community in their halls to serving as “COVID police.”

The subcommittee recommended potentially providing a stipend or paycheck if the position continued to receive fewer applicants. Another suggestion was to open up applications to juniors.

Erhardt also discussed the subcommittee’s second focus, student mental health. He said 42% of students experienced moderate to serious psychological distress this school year. Erhardt pointed out that several student organizations, including the senate, have pressed for more resources.

They presented data that showed the University Counseling Center (UCC) saw significant usage during this academic year. The data showed that part-time staffing helped with the high rate of mental health issues on campus even though the part-time staff served in limited roles. The subcommittee recommended diversifying counselors and treatment at the UCC.

“There is no clear mental health plan from Student Affairs,” Erhardt said. 

The subcommittee proposed two recommendations. First, they said greater funding should be allocated to hire more full-time counselors. The second recommendation was to support the senate’s resolution to renew the University’s subscriptions to the Calm app.

Olinger said Student Affairs would continue to assess the needs of the UCC with regard to full-time staffing in the coming semesters. 

Sophomore Dane Sherman, former director of University policy, presented on behalf of the gender relations committee because senior and former chief of staff Alix Basden could not attend the meeting. 

Sherman said “every student on this campus should feel a sense of belonging.” 

He moved on to discuss gender-affirming housing, explaining that the current system of housing that is based on an individual’s biological sex rather than gender identity can cause problems for transgender or gender non-conforming students. Sherman had volunteers read student testimonies aloud.

“I think the stories speak for themselves,” Sherman said.

Currently, transgender or gender non-conforming students have to remain in a dorm based on their sex, move to Fischer Graduate Residences or apply for an exemption to move off campus early, Sherman said.

Sherman said most transgender students do not feel a sense of belonging at Notre Dame and residence halls are key to that experience.

The subcommittee’s request was to pilot a program for gender-affirming housing in one men’s dorm and one women’s dorm. Following a question, Sherman explained that gender-affirming housing would allow students who identified with a gender other than their biological sex to opt to live in a dorm that aligned with their gender identity.

Next, sophomore Faith Woods, director of gender and inclusion for race and ethnicity, and Paul Stoller, sophomore class council president, presented for the subcommittee on diversity and inclusion. 

Woods discussed how the Moreau First-Year Experience could be changed to serve as better diversity training for students coming into the University. Woods specifically mentioned microaggression awareness for students who might be unfamiliar with the idea. 

Stoller said most students were unfamiliar with speakup.nd.edu, the reporting system for harassment on campus. Stoller suggested advertisements for the reporting tool on sites like Canvas and Sakai, as well as during football games. 

Woods also discussed connecting SpeakUp ND to GreeNDot. They shared potential visuals for students to improve the reporting process, saying the current explanations are too confusing.

“I think there are matters we can live with, like having too long lines in the dining hall or having weird hours at Taco Bell,” Stoller said. “We can live with that, but these are matters that have to be done right. This is of the utmost importance to us, we worked on this all year because it is so personal.”

The meeting was closed by a sing-along of “Happy Birthday” to Coughlin led by Njomo.

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About Isa Sheikh

Isa Sheikh is a first-year in Stanford Hall and serves as associate news editor. A history and political science major hailing from Sacramento, he enjoys reading The Observer on the 11th floor of Hes, sipping Cinderblock Coffee in the morning, and re-reading the same Didion essays. He can be reached at [email protected]

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