I’m writing in response to the December 12 Knight News story, “English Department Speaks Out About ‘Mental Health Crisis’ on Campus.” At Queens College, we strive to create an environment that fosters impactful conversations, particularly regarding the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of our students. For this reason, it’s vital that we address the concerns shared by Dr. Siân Silyn Roberts so that we continue to inform students that many support services exist on campus to address their needs.
As you know, the December 8 “sit down with the Knight News,” at the invitation of President Wu, covered many topics. During that discussion, the president and I outlined multiple steps that the college is taking to increase a sense of campus community—safely, in the face of the borough’s rising COVID-19 infection rate—as well as to provide students with counseling resources. I would have welcomed an opportunity to provide my perspective in advance for this story.
Among the president’s suggestions for helping campus life return to pre-pandemic levels were to increase the number of in-person activities and build and strengthen student organizations that enhance the student experience. A considerable variety of student-centered events took place during the fall semester. Here are just a few examples. Shelley Greenspan, White House liaison to the Jewish community, came to campus and met with student members of QC Hillel. Her Majesty Queen Diambi Kabatusuila Tshiyoyo Muata of the Democratic Republic of Congo—a CUNY alumna—spoke to students, faculty, and staff about her hopes for future collaboration between CUNY and her nation. A celebration marked the establishment of an endowment named for the late Carole Douglas, a QC and CUNY alumna who worked in the School of Social Sciences; the fund will support an annual award to a QC student who supports equity and diversity on campus. The QC Business School and the Department of Accounting and Information Systems held a roundtable on the future of accounting, bringing together students, faculty, and professionals in the field. Shaunette Renée Wilson ’13, star of Bleu Beckford-Burrell’s play La Race, made an on-campus appearance in an informal conversation sponsored by QCArts and the Office of Alumni Relations. CUNY students had their pick of packaged goods and fresh produce when the Knights Table Food Pantry and the Office for Student Development and Leadership held the last Harvest Fest of the semester. As part of a first-ever listening tour encompassing all 25 City University of New York campuses, Wendy Hensel, executive vice chancellor and university provost of CUNY, spent a day at Queens College and participated in a one-hour town hall with students. Students also enjoyed a Six Flags Frightfest, and our annual Pridefest, Welcome Day, Fall Fest, MidKnight Madness, and MidKnight Breakfast celebrations.
Along with creating a more vibrant campus community, we are providing comprehensive counseling resources. As I indicated during our December 8 meeting, with CARES Act funding provided to higher education institutions during the pandemic, we hired six counseling center employees—three licensed mental health counselors, a social worker, a nutritionist, and a social media manager—to form an integrated support system for students over the last three semesters. Because we recognized that students’ level of self-care may have been impacted during the pandemic, potentially affecting their academic performance, a nutritionist was an important addition to the team. A social media manager helps to notify students about these services in the mediums that they most frequently use.
While the funding for the six positions will last for just two full academic years—until the end of June 2023—the college is now actively recruiting for the full-time positions of director and associate director of the counseling center. The new director—who must be a licensed mental health professional and an experienced administrator—will oversee counseling, special services, and health services, and advocate for additional services at the college. With that person’s help, we plan to explore how to expand services, including engaging social workers and a doctor on campus to serve students.
We want Queens College to be a place where students have access to the tools that help ensure their success. We are actively making that happen by increasing opportunities for engagement and socialization and by providing resources for those seeking counseling. As I stated during the December 8 meeting, my door is always open to students so that we can learn how to further strengthen our efforts on their behalf.
Jennifer L. Jarvis, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management