Editorial: Securing student health

This past summer offered no vacation for the College as the campus saw a vigorous implementation of various changes initiated last spring. One of these was the Early Retirement Program: On June 30, 47 staff members departed from the College under this one-time cost-cutting measure. As a result of reorganizations throughout many departments, the 2010-2011 academic year saw students arriving to a changed campus, with some alterations more apparent than others.

Many innovations occurred in areas nonessential to the daily lives of most students. For instance, the newly formed Office of Communications comprises staff members who focus on disseminating information between departments and off campus institutions. Apart from the Daily Messages and the occasional press release, few students can claim any vested interest in this office, and it is fully understandable that the College implemented these changes without taking student opinion into account. In certain key matters, however, it is imperative that students participate in the decision-making process. Specifically, the Health Center and Campus Safety and Security substantially affect student life, and in these domains students ought to be consulted and kept abreast of significant decisions and changes that are made.

As with many early retirement departures, that of former Director of Security Jean Thorndike came as a surprise, as did Dave Boyer’s promotion to interim Security director. The dearth of follow-up information after the Daily Messages announcement unnerved a very nontrivial proportion of students, who have been wondering how and when the College will appoint a new director. Beyond its obvious necessity, Security can be a primary determinant of how comfortable students feel in their living and working environment. Security officers keep us safe, communicate with us about important new policies and rules and interact with us under circumstances that can occasionally be emotionally draining. The administration must acknowledge this unique relationship between students and Security by giving students some say in selecting its chief policy-maker.

Students may not be able to dramatically shift the direction of Security – nor should they be able to. Given the sensitive nature of Security’s purview, it would be naive to expect all of its dealings to be public. However, we greatly appreciated how the administration both solicited and considered student input during the presidential search, and we would equally appreciate an incorporation of student sentiment into the search process for the future director of Security. By making sure that students are involved and updated as this search unfolds, the College will ensure greater transparency while simultaneously putting students’ minds at ease.

A second crucial relationship for students is that with the Health Center. Following early retirement, two significant positions remain unfilled – one therapist and the only pharmacist. While there exists an ongoing search to replace the therapist, the administration has yet to show any urgency about replacing the pharmacist. As a result, physicians at the Health Center are only able to prescribe medicine, as the Center is legally barred from dispensing these prescriptions, leaving students dependent on Rite Aid for thrice-weekly deliveries and on the Health Center’s generous staff for trips to Rite Aid whenever urgent needs arise.

One year ago, the absence of a pharmacist would have presented only a minor inconvenience. However, the loss of the pharmaceutical component at Hart’s dramatically alters the situation, cutting out any option for obtaining important medications in close proximity to campus. Rite Aid does reside within the limits of Williamstown, but its distance from the College makes it a difficult trip for students without easy access to transportation.

Not only is it worrisome that sick students might have difficulty receiving medication, but it is not the responsibility of Health Center staff to spend time driving students to Rite Aid. Furthermore, while staff may currently be able to accommodate drives to Rite Aid with students, an outbreak akin to last year’s swine flu would create huge problems for the Health Center. Nurses could be simultaneously confronted with sick students in the waiting room and with students needing Rite Aid runs. This is hardly an ideal situation. The College’s relatively remote location already presents students with limited options in other aspects of their lives. Essential medications should not be one of them.
We recognize that several full-time positions must be cut for financial reasons, but the College should consider that the pharmacist is a singular role that completely transforms the accessibility of prescription medication for students. Although the Health Center is able to dispense over-the-counter medications, students who are dealing with the most pressing illnesses are the most likely to find such provisions inadequate. When health services are in question, so is the students’ quality of life.

While we recognize the vast amount of minute administrative work that undergirds the campus environment, College administrators need to acknowledge that students should be not left out of certain discussions. When any student’s immediate well-being is on the table, optimal decisions will result from including, involving and informing students.

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