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Forum generates ideas for fostering support on campus

Susan Murphy
Daniel Faraone/University Photography
Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy speaks at the Caring Community open forum, April 30 in Malott Hall.

From making exercise facilities more accessible to expanding counseling services at Gannett, students, faculty and staff shared their ideas on ways to build a more supportive community with Provost Kent Fuchs, Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy and Dean of Faculty William Fry at an open forum in Malott Hall's Bache Auditorium April 30.

The forum follows a message in April from President David Skorton calling on the Cornell community to consider the totality of the student experience and reconsider how we as a community support one another and reach out for support. Skorton also asked Fuchs, Fry and Murphy to coordinate a comprehensive review of the student experience and the campus' support systems, and share ideas and plans with the community.

"We have had an extremely difficult academic year," said Dean of Students Kent Hubbell, who moderated the discussion. Hubbell called the forum a first step for community members "to share your thoughts and insights on how best to foster a culture that empowers our creativity and our optimism."

Some of the ideas brought up were already being studied or implemented; including reconsidering prelim schedules and adding staff to Gannett's Counseling and Psychological Services.

"This is a tough environment to add four to five staff members, at least, but it is our top priority," Murphy said.

Jesse McElwain, a second-year student in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, suggested more and broader programs similar to Tapestry of Possibilities, an interactive theater ensemble that addresses issues related to diversity. Ideas along those lines are already being considered by staff at the Tatkon Center, Hubbell said.

"I've also noticed that although we instinctively want to reach out and help each other, there's a lot of situations when we don't have time, [or] we don't have the energy," said Dana Hartsig '13. "I think it's really important to look out for the students who are helping the students who are in need, so they don't feel like they need to choose between their well-being and the well-being of those around them."

But faculty support is vital, too, said Eleanor Carmeli '11. "Anything you can say helps," she said. "Understanding that you care what we're going through; just addressing that issue ... faculty can say anything, and it means more than saying nothing. Much, much more."

Faculty may be shy about addressing issues beyond academics, but they are very concerned, said Fry. And just because a faculty member may seem reserved doesn't mean they don't want to help, said computer sciences professor Graeme Bailey. "We really do care, and we really appreciate students coming and letting us know what's going on," he said.

The Faculty Senate is considering a variety of issues -- including making changes to prelim scheduling and reworking the academic calendar. "It's really much too early in the discussion to say what will or will not happen. But I think something will happen," Fry said.

The administration is also focusing renewed attention on teaching excellence, said Fuchs. "Not just [for] faculty, but a large number of TAs, both undergrad and grad," he said. Faculty also have received handbooks on how to notice and respond to students in distress, Hubbell added.

To a student request for more transparency, particularly on plans regarding the bridge barriers, Murphy said that the administration hasn't made any decisions yet, but she would make more of an effort to keep the community informed as options are being considered.

"I think it's really neat that the administration is taking the time to hear from the entire community," said Hartsig afterward. "Having us all in one room is really important."


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