Catherine Cartier ’20

On February 5, the Pi Mu chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and Student Government Association SGA held in a town hall to discuss the school’s policies and procedures during emergency mental health situations. Director of Public Safety and Chief of Campus Police Julian Coaxum, Associate Dean of Students Jason Shaffer, and Director of Student Health and Well-Being Dr. David Graham spoke on the panel. Approximately 40 students gathered in Hance Auditorium to listen and ask questions. While both attendees and facilitators voiced appreciation for the space to discuss these important policies, students expressed the need for greater engagement around issues of student health.

After an introduction from Caroline Roddey ’20 and Roy Toston ’20, the staff members shared their respective roles in emergency mental health situations. Davidson has several layers of on-call staff who work together. These include the Dean-On-Call, Officer-On-Call, counselors in the Center for Student Health, Residential Advisors, Hall Counselors and RLO professional staff. Dean Shaffer said, “Often times, a mental health crisis comes to someone in that group.” Both Dean Shaffer and Dr. Graham emphasized the value of a town hall conversation on emergency mental health policies. Dean Shaffer reflected, “This is a rare chance to get together with many folks in the room.” Similarly, Dr. Graham commented, “What we do is informed by meetings like this. One-on-one, we don’t always get the larger picture. It’s nice to get a collective audience together.” Chief Coaxum touched briefly on a law enforcement perspective, but said that he would defer to Dr. Graham and Dean Shaffer’s expertise, as he started working at Davidson in January.

Following comments from Dean Shaffer, Dr. Graham, and Chief Coaxum, students had the chance to ask questions. They asked about how intoxicated students can receive help, the role of SGA in advocating for off-hours care from counselors, the potential liability students take on in supporting their peers, and mental health support for students studying abroad. Speaking on potential for expanding off-hours care from counselors, Dr Graham said, “We’re looking at ways to relieve that tension once we’re fully staffed. We haven’t been fully staffed since last year.”

While the town hall format provided the chance to clarify some concerns, other questions remain. Wren Healy’23 commented, “The forum provided valuable information on the nuances of mental health emergencies on campus—particularly on emergency circumstances and the roles of peers in supporting one another. Though many attended, I’d love to see greater engagement on an issue so significant at Davidson.” This town hall was the first in recent years to focus on best practices and areas for improvement in responding to mental health emergencies. Gwen Van Doren ’23 said, “I’m glad there was an effort made but I feel like there could be more events like this to make it feel like student health is valued and not just a liability.”