On Friday, Feb. 22, President Tuajuanda C. Jordan testified before the Maryland State Senate Education, Budget, and Administration subcommittee at a hearing for the College’s yearly budget allocation. Dr. Jordan’s testimony was followed by testimony from representatives of the College staff union, AFSCME Local 3980, as well as testimony from senior Emma Content. Content discussed issues with the College’s funding of student services such as the Wellness Center and the Office of Student Support Services (OS3).
In her oral testimony, Content argued that the College has “subpar” mental health services, stating that “as a student with mental health needs, my needs in order to succeed at college have not been met, to say the least.” Content shared a story of a St. Mary’s student who lost his insurance, and was unable to refill his learning disability medication through the Wellness Center due to a month-long wait time. “In a month’s time I do not know what would have happened to him,” Content explained.
“I thought [Content’s testimony] was very well articulated and I thought it brought up a lot of things that should have been discussed,” said SGA President Andrew Messick, who also attended the testimony, adding “I thought very highly of everything she said.”
Content explained to TPN that she has been working on improving mental health services on campus for “almost four years,” and has spoken to the Dean of Students and at the Board of Trustees about issues regarding the Wellness Center. Content is also a member of the newly-formed Wellness Center Advisory Committee, a group of eight students meant to improve communication between the Wellness Center and students.
Before Content’s testimony, President Jordan was asked what resources the General Assembly could provide in order to improve graduation rates. Jordan first mentioned the need for “hands-on interaction” and financial support for students, as well as the need for a strong support staff.
In regards to the need for support staff, Jordan mentioned that “when you look at students going to college today, you see that a lot of them now have special needs, that is a drain on resources,” and asked how the College could “provide for those needs without taking away from something else that other students need as well.”
Students who viewed the testimony took issue with the language used to describe providing support to students with special needs. “The fact that President Jordan said, almost outright, that students with special needs and disabilities are a drain on resources is really kind of appalling,” Content explained, “these students aren’t a drain, they contribute to the community, they contribute to what SMCM is.”
“What I was hoping she was trying to convey was the fact that we don’t have enough resources to assist students who technically at the start are at a disadvantage,” said SGA Residence Life Representative Sarah Casper-Woodhead, who also attended the event, “what she said instead made it sound like she thought that those students were a burden on this school and that they were draining resources from ‘normal students’.”
Dr. Jordan clarified the comment in a written statement to TPN, stating that “this statement seems to be taken out of context. Specifically, it occurred in response to Senator Eckardt’s question about what resources the college needed related to graduation rates.” Jordan also clarified that “When I spoke of a ‘drain on resources,’ I was speaking from a higher level on the need for the College to balance limited resources and increasing priorities.”
Jordan also discussed improvements made to student services recently, writing that “longitudinal data indicates that, even with higher percentages of students requiring care, available walk-in hours have increased, wait-time is down, and professional counseling staff have been secured in high-demand areas like psychiatry.”
“The conversation on access to counseling is a nationwide issue, and St. Mary’s College is not exempt. Providing students access to a high-quality educational experience is part of our mission,” Jordan stated.
Associate Dean for Retention and Student Success Joanne Goldwater, who has supervised OS3 since 2017, stated that “the biggest [problem] is that students need to come see us.” Goldwater explained that “we do a lot of outreach to students and many of them come to see us, but many more don’t.”
Goldwater explained that OS3 connects students to “people, resources, services, support systems and activities” that help students successfully reach graduation, and offers “a whole lot of different things” to students who may need assistance being successful in College. “We want to help,” Goldwater stated, “This is the best job ever, because that’s all we do, is help.”
The College will testify in the State Senate again on Tuesday, March 12, to the Capital Budget Subcommittee.