Michaela Gibbons ’22 (She/Her)
The college therapists I have seen have each explicitly expressed to me in our private sessions that Davidson College is not a conducive environment for mental health. This sentiment usually comes up after I let the counselor know that I have been struggling with my mental well-being and am looking for support. The counselors I saw hopelessly acted as if it was the nature of this institution and not the environment we have created. Consequently, there was nothing I could do but endure. Now, I am a senior and unwilling to put up with the malfeasances that I’ve seen for the last three years. The institution’s successes can no longer come at the expense of students’ well-being.
Over the summer, I met with the Academic Access and Disability Resources (AADR) Office to register my emotional support animal. I was surprised to hear that there were academic accommodations that I was eligible for as a student with mental illnesses. In my first two years, I saw two different counselors through the Center for Student Health and Wellbeing; I had never been informed about these accommodations that I could have been using all this time, particularly in the fall semester of my sophomore year when I was having a mental health crisis that affected my academics.
We can’t talk about mental welfare on campus without addressing the issue of power-based personal violence. My sophomore fall I was invited to attend a Green Dot training session. Green Dot is a bystander intervention program that combats interpersonal violence on college campuses, which includes stalking, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence. The hope was that if enough students across campus were trained in how to prevent and intervene in these instances, the student body would adopt an attitude of No Tolerance towards interpersonal violence. While it all sounds great in theory, we students are not the only ones who shape the campus culture. How the administration responds institutionally to instances of power-based personal violence contributes to the mental well-being of the student body.
Davidson College’s policy on interpersonal violence states: “Davidson College is committed to creating and maintaining an environment that is free of sexual misconduct, stalking, and relationship abuse and violence …. The college does not condone and will not tolerate” instances of power-based personal violence. What nonsense! In my personal experience, I have been privy to over a dozen of these incidents on campus.Frankly, I have seen Interfraternity Council (IFC) fraternities implement this policy more effectively and efficiently than the college itself. The administration has taken a passive role in preventing instances of interpersonal violence. (Don’t believe me? A five-minute search revealed an experience from Athena-Maria Kalamaras ‘19, a personal narrative from Alex Aiello ‘21, and a news article about the baseball team’s ongoing misconduct). Time and time again there is that student who goes through all four years repeatedly perpetuating violence. Davidson College, however, treats each incident, each report, each complaint, as an isolated event. While we may not have full access to the administration’s proceedings in response to these events, we as a student body are most affected by their outcome. Yet, we continue to have no voice and no representation in how the college responds to the crisis.
The most recent Three Year Summary of Sexual Misconduct Reports states that from Fall 2017 to Spring 2019 there were 76 total reports. With the high percentage of unreported sexual misconduct on college campuses, one would think that Davidson would be working to find those statistics so that they could assess the efficacy of their reporting process. Why not send out a biennial interpersonal violence climate survey, as suggested by the HALT Campus Sexual Violence Act? These statistics of unreported incidents should be included in our campus security report and be available to employees and students.
It is often difficult to self-advocate or file a report while experiencing a crisis. It is, however, even more disheartening when you do and still do not receive the necessary care and consideration. Too often I come across Perspectives in this paper and Facebook posts in the college group recounting an instance in which Davidson College has failed, yet again, to prioritize the safety and well-being of its students. In her Davidsonian article, Abbey Corcoran ’19 describes a time in which she experienced a mental health crisis of suicide ideation. Not only was the college ill-equipped to aid a student in need but it was also unwilling to meet her needs with compassion even in her recovery.
At this time, I need to say something about suicide and suicide ideation at Davidson College, as mental illnesses and interpersonal violence are risk factors. This is a content warning for the next paragraph, where I will discuss suicide. First and foremost, there is nothing shameful or immoral about suicide ideation. And it is more common than you may think. A 2010 study surveying first-years in colleges found that 60% of individuals with suicide ideation did not display depressive symptoms. Now, I cannot speak to what types of screening tools—if any—that the Center for Student Health and Wellbeing uses, but I want to emphasize that signs of depression should not be the sole indicator.
Our campus needs more methods of suicide prevention and intervention. No one is responsible for preventing someone from taking their own life, but there are methods of intervention that may help that someone. On campus, first responders to suicide ideation or attempts should not be RLO and campus police. The first instinct of the college should not be removal from campus or medical institutionalization because every person’s needs are different. For Corcoran, hospitalization was the best thing for her. Personally, hospitalization would only push me over the edge. There needs to be a trained professional available in these instances.
Corcoran’s personal narrative was published by the Davidsonian in 2017, but I learned about how her life here continued in the school year Facebook group soon after campus Neo-Nazis, Martha Gerdes and James MacLeod, were doxxed and removed. Numerous complaints and reports had been filed about both individuals. Gerdes and MacLeod were not removed from campus until the violence they’d been afflicting escalated into a potential campus-wide attack. On November 7, 2018, the threat of harm to specifically Jewish students, students of color, and queer students happened in part because Davidson College allowed it.
Davidson College needs to radically transform its crisis response and centralize its student support services. I am not saying the college’s offices that pertain to student life and wellness are ineffective. The problem is that these offices are not in collaboration with each other, the administration, and the student body. We cannot continue to treat students’ mental and physical welfare as separate from and unrelated to our everyday affairs here at Davidson College, such as our academic, athletic, social, and residential life experiences. The Dean of Students Office—“dedicated to the physical, emotional and well-being of every Davidson student”—must merge with the Center for Student Health and Wellbeing, Davidson Sports Performance Department, AADR, and RLO to effectively and holistically care for us students; thus, when a crisis arises, we might be able to put people before policy more effectively.
Michaela Gibbons ‘22 (she/her) is a GSS and economics double major from New Haven, CT. Contact her at email@example.com.