Student creates petition to call attention to college spending

October 19, 2016 by Neena Patel, News Editor

This week, Erin Hanson ’18 launched a petition on titled “Williams College: sell 4–5 marble slabs to pay for a new therapist at the Health Center.” In the petition, which is directed at the College administration, Hanson references the multi-million dollar renovation and quad project.

Hanson also quotes the Williams Committee of Transparency and Accountability, a new committee on campus: “There are only eight therapists and one psychiatrist who serve a community of 2200. At least one in five college students … have some kind of mental illness. Even if all eight worked full time, there would not be enough time for all students with need to be served. Furthermore, three of eight are fellows, who [are not licensed, paid less, and on short term contracts]. Of the three people of color on staff, two are fellows. There are few LGBT staff, and no transgender staff.”

Hanson proposes that the College sell four to five marble slabs in order to hire a new therapist for one year, who would have a yearly salary of approximately $45,000. As of Monday night, the petition had 400 signatures.

“I actually think to focus on the marble too much is to miss the point. I don’t care so much about the marble — sometimes I even think it’s nice. What I do care about is the way [the College] allocates its immense wealth,” Hanson said.

According to Rita Coppola-Wallace, executive director of design and construction, the cost per individual piece of marble block is about $4480. There are 136 pieces, which adds up to a total cost of $609,280. Provost David Love stated that these pieces of scrap marble from a quarry in Vermont contribute to less than 5-percent of the entire construction project. Half of the funds came from gifts from alumni.

He also explained that the sale of five marble blocks would not cover the costs of paying for a new therapist, but stated his understanding that the petition is “less about proposing a literal exchange of marble for therapists, and more about calling for deeper investments in health service.” Love emphasized that the College takes it commitment to mental health very seriously.

“The bottom line is that health services have to meet student need,” Hanson said. “The wait time to see a therapist or the psychiatrist — for me it was two weeks — is unacceptable.”

“The petition really shows how many students are interested in quality mental health care at Williams and how student and staff efforts have reduced the stigma around counseling services,” Paul Gitterman, interim co-director of psychological services, said.

Hanson brought up the point that mentally ill people do not always reach out for help until they are desperate for it, and this occurs even more when people are aware that resources are scarce.

“We need more diverse therapists that can do culturally adapted counseling work for a range of clients, that can understand and empathize with experiences of race and racism, queerness, gender dysphoria and disability. There is much research to suggest culturally-tailored therapy is vital for patient improvement,” Hanson said.

“We saw 29% of the student body last year with short wait times and no limit to the number of visits,” said Gitterman. “We continue to share our data with other colleges and universities and haven’t found anyone with a better staff to student ratio. As our services continue to be utilized more we have been supported by the administration to increase our staffing.”

Gitterman said that until the staff can support the large number of clients that come, they will continue to employ the help of a local psychologist. “This will make sure that no student waits for services and allows us to partner with them in assessing their needs and determining which services are most appropriate for them,” he said.

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