A case for summer wellness: On the lack of adequate healthcare at the College

Sam Jocas

Last summer, my mental health took a turn for the worse. It began with dissociative episodes, but eventually got to the point where I was afraid of being by myself for fear of what might happen. I knew that I should have been put on SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) for several months, but it wasn’t until I arrived on campus for the summer, free from academic distraction, that I realized some form of medication would be imperative for basic functioning. I finally gathered the courage to call Student Health and Wellness Services for an appointment, only to find that the Health Center is closed over the summer. Not “partially closed,” not “limited hours,” but entirely non-operational. I deemed my situation severe enough that I flew home that weekend to meet with a doctor back home in Canton to immediately begin medication, only to fly back 24 hours later to be back on campus in time for work on Monday. 

That students working on campus over the summer have no direct access to a health center for mental and physical care is completely unacceptable. Campus administration is aware that the vast majority of summer workers are low-income and/or people of color, many of whom regularly rely upon the Health Center for wellness during the school year. The refusal to provide some sort of proximate health facility for students is not only a grave injustice, but also sends a signal to students that their presence on campus is not valued. If the administration wants us to work in their libraries, research laboratories and local businesses over the summer, it is their duty to provide services that ensure the safety and care of their summer student employees. 

If the reason for closing the Health Center over the summer is that there is not enough demand for it, that’s simply a fallacy. I was but one of many students who were unable to receive adequate wellness over the summer. If the reason is that keeping the health center open over the summer is not “financially viable,” I should hope that the wellbeing of students is not being weighed in a sterile cost-benefit analysis. 

There are a myriad of reasons why a student may not be able to drive to North Adams to receive medical care at the nearest health facility. Some students are not signed up for Zipcar. Some do not have a license. Some may feel uncomfortable asking their summer housing coordinator to drive them to the hospital. To put this burden of responsibility on the shoulders of students is a direct violation of the College’s mission to “be a responsible citizen and employer.” 

Few students on campus last summer had the unique privilege I had to fly home to receive medical care. Many had to endure the summer without access to mental and/or physical care, neither of which should ever be the case. For many students who cannot afford to go home, need to stay on campus to pay for their tuition or cannot return home due to family complications, summer employment is the only option. As an institution, it is the College’s responsibility to keep the Health Center open over the summer in order to meet the basic needs of the summer workers who keep the College functioning throughout the summer months. 

Sam Jocas ’21 is an economics and statistics major from Canton, Ohio.