Suicide Awareness Video Produced by Former Student Trustee

Suicide and depression have long been held as taboo subjects in our modern society and through many points in history. The St. Mary’s Health and Counseling Center, along with videographer Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall, decided to make this video in order to breach that taboo and attempt to reach out to anyone in society going through similar issues who might need help, or who might just need someone to talk to during a rough patch in their lives. Through personal true stories, poignant questions and carefully crafted scenes, this video is designed to give strength to those who need it.

Check it out here, or watch below.

Sustainability Fellow Position Vital to College Mission, Purpose

As our country and our state struggle to cope with the recession, we at St. Mary’s College of Maryland have seen a lot of cuts. We all know workers across the State are hurting and administrators at the College are worried. But as we tighten our belts and trim down our budgets, there are some things that we have to save— the things that make us who we are.

As you’ve probably heard by now, the College has suspended the office of Sustainability Fellow, and the full-time post, a one-year position filled by a newly graduated SMCM alumnus/a, will not be continued next year.

The College hopes that by taking on extra student interns they will be able to fill the hole left by the removal of the Fellowship position. History shows this will not be the case. Of all the things we’ve had to cut back on, sustainability should not be one of them.

Environmental consciousness and sustainability are part of who we are as an institution. Our commitment to the environment is right there in our Mission Statement. Sustainability makes up one of the six goals of our proposed Strategic Plan.

Moreover, we made a public commitment to sustainability when we finalized a Climate Action Plan earlier this year, part of our signing onto the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. That alone took three years of work from successive Sustainability Fellows. Now we have to implement it, it’s unrealistic to assume we can accomplish the goals we have set without a single full-time staff member dedicated to them.

The College plans to use a student intern to fill the position. Even two or three student interns would not be able to adequately fill the gaps. In the years before the Sustainability Fellow we did good things— buying renewable energy credits, getting fair trade coffee in the Green Bean and the Daily Grind— but comparing those achievements to what the Sustainability Fellow position has done in the past three years is like comparing an apple to an apple tree; one simply gives you a whole lot more.

With Sustainability Fellows we have accomplished much: the Climate Action Plan, Audubon International Sanctuary Certification, re-usable to-go boxes in the Great Room, the Campus Community Farm, and so much more.

The issues that we will face in the next few years are absolutely critical: the pilot program for our re-usable to-go boxes has been a success, but without a Sustainability Fellow to implement it its future is in jeopardy. Erosion along the Waterfront isn’t going to get any better and we have clear-cut many of the trees and plants that could stop it. Our recycling and composting rates are abysmal, and there are numerous projects that need to be completed to lower our carbon footprint. There is still major work to be done in terms of community outreach, and the same goes for incorporating green initiatives into educational opportunities for students, like at Chancellor’s Point— a place we have yet to tap the full potential of as an environmental sanctuary and a venue for student activities in coordination with Historic St. Mary’s City. Parking lot improvements, bike accommodations, modernizing the vehicle fleet, improving energy efficiency in all parts of the campus— I could fill this entire newspaper with projects the Sustainability Office has hoped to accomplish with its Fellowship position.

This isn’t a rank-and-file desk job. This is something incredibly important to who we are. We cannot simply pay lip service to sustainability and then cut back on our efforts to achieve it. We have to practice what we preach, or we’re just another school using the ‘green’ label to attract prospective students.

 

Student Trustee: College Left in Capable Hands

In February of 2009, I was selected to be the 2010-2011 Student Trustee. It was the beginning of a 27-month commitment, and I had no idea what I was getting into. Over these past 27 months, I have continued to be a student, and just added on the opportunity to represent all students before the Board of Trustees. I’ve used my position to push for change, to fight for the rights of students, and to better every aspect of the school I could think of. I’ve used the position to gain access to certain areas, to sit on committees I might not otherwise have been invited to, and to get meetings on short notice with school administrators. But now I’m graduating.

In February of 2010, Maurielle Stewart was selected to be the 2011-2012 Student Trustee, and in just a few weeks, upon the conclusion of the final Board meeting of the academic year, I will officially pass on the torch to her capable hands. For those of you joining me for graduation in a few weeks, it matters little. For everyone else, you have one or more semesters left at St. Mary’s, and you have all the opportunity in the world to effect change. Maurielle will continue the work I have begun and forge a new path ahead, pushing through progressive ideas that I could only have dreamed of.

When Maurielle was selected, I had my doubts. I could see that she had potential for greatness, but there was still much growing to be done. Little did I know at the time that I still had immense amounts of growing to do as well. The experiences I had from February 2010 until the beginning of this academic year were huge and shaped who I am and what I am capable of. The thing is, I’ve seen similar learning experiences occurring in Maurielle’s life, and as I step down, I do so with immense confidence in the capabilities of my successor.

Maurielle Stewart will do amazing things as Student Trustee. Go to her as issues arise, and let her know what is happening in your lives as they relate to school. What issues do you need taken care of, or what ideas do you have for moving St. Mary’s further into the future? These are things she will need to hear from all of you in order to do the best job she can. Rest assured, she will be one of the best Student Trustees this school has ever seen, and with your help, she may top the whole group of us.

As I say my goodbyes and prepare to move into the real world, I know that the Student Trustee position is in good hands. I know that this whole school is in good hands. So live, love and learn, for however long you still have here, and never stop working to improve the school. With Maurielle at the helm, success is all but guaranteed.

Good luck to all. Catch you on the flip side!

 

Giving What You Can to Keep St. Mary’s Great

A girl I know turned to me and said that this was her last semester, she couldn’t afford to come back. Two days later, a guy stopped me on the path, to ask about financial aid possibilities, saying he was working twenty-hour weeks on top of school and still not making ends meet. Five days later, another person said she was taking twenty-four credits this semester, in an effort to graduate early to avoid additional debt. The next day, I heard from another student who had transferred to College Park already, unable to afford St. Mary’s College.

In nine days I heard from four different students in extreme financial difficulties. At other times throughout the semester, I heard from more than a dozen others in similar situations. Earlier this year, I wrote about what was happening with tuition, and why. I talked about the declining percentage of general budget funds coming from the state, and rising expenses despite austerity efforts. The school is working on solutions, from pushing the state for more money to increasing fundraising efforts for scholarships. Yes, both the school and the state need to work harder, and I’m pushing them on that, but sometimes we can’t wait for others to act. We must act now.

Some of us have been lucky enough to have a parent or other relative or funding source pay for the entirety of our education. We are the ones not struggling to make tuition payments, who take merit-based aid as a nice bonus, rather than as necessity. I am among this group, as many of you reading this article are. That is not to say that I personally have a great deal of money; on the contrary, my bank account is quite small. But what is there isn’t needed to pay for my education. It’s all discretionary funding, and while saving up for post graduation is necessary, maybe I can do with one less new shirt, or one less pack of “Natty Boh.”

At the end of last semester, I made a $200.00 donation for need-based financial aid. As mentioned in an earlier Point News article, another student made a $1,000.00 anonymous donation for need-based financial aid. That is an incredible start. What we need now is every student on the financially stable end of the spectrum, those of us who can afford it, to give whatever we can to help out our fellow students. If all you can give is five dollars, then do it. If you can give more, do it. If you have well off relatives, ask them for money if you’re comfortable doing so. If you have time, write to the legislature and tell them how much we need additional funding. Anything you can give, and anything you can think of outside of direct giving, is helpful. Together, we can help keep every student who wants to stay at St. Mary’s financially capable of doing so. All it takes is a little force of will and a determination as a student body to not let our peers fall by the wayside. Give everything you can, and we can do it.

So open your wallets and open your hearts. Let’s do this thing!

 

Student Trustee: News in Brief On Campus Life

Since there are no huge things happening on campus these days, I figured I’d give a news-in-brief style article this week. So here goes nothing.

Graduation is coming up some day, and my guess is the school will switch back to graduating by majors. I have no insider information on this, but the administration is responsive and there’s been a lot of feedback for keeping tradition.

The inauguration (InURGOration) happened recently and it was awesome. Congratulations to Joe and many thanks to everyone who helped out in the planning and execution stages of the event.

The baseball team has a winning record right now. Someone just informed me of such which is why they made it into this news-in-brief. To all spring athletes, keep kicking butt!

Senior Assassins is going on right now, and as of this writing, I am still alive. By the time this is published, I’ll likely have been killed, but I’m going strong after 48 hours. If anyone knows who is gunning for me, please let me know.

Civility on campus is down, if anyone has been under a rock and hasn’t noticed. Please, if you haven’t been as civil/nice/respectful as you could have been, take a moment, think about it, and join me in trying to better ourselves. I know I’m not innocent, so I’m not trying to call anyone out. Let’s do this together.

Keep St. Mary’s Beautiful, the Arboretum Association, and Grounds Crew did a great deal of beautification recently. We put in a Healing Garden between the St. John’s site and the Cobb House, planted about 25 trees all around campus and had a special pre-inauguration clean up. Keep St. Mary’s Beautiful is continuing weekly clean-ups every Sunday at 1 p.m., meeting at the Campus Center Patio.

Powershift, World Carnival and the Chancellor’s Point Festival are all coming up this month. They’re being organized by Student Environmental Action Coalition, Student Government Association Programs Board and the Chancellor’s Point Club respectively. I encourage all of you to check them out.

SMPs are due in soon, which is terrifying. Good luck to all seniors in completing yours, and when we’re all done you should join me on the water, at the Door, chilling on the Patio, etc. We’ve earned it.

Blue Wind is coming to campus! And I think we’ll still have Chick-fil-A for now, which means we have the best of both worlds for the stomachs of this campus. I won’t get into the politics of it here; I just want to celebrate Blue Wind, for they are delicious!

Finally, I lost my One Card. If you’ve found it, please email me.

 

SGA Substantive and Vital to St. Mary’s

When I came to St. Mary’s as a freshman (way back in the day when we were still called freshmen), the thought of joining the Student Government Association (SGA) had never crossed my mind. It still hadn’t more than a year later when then-SGA President Sunny Schnitzer suggested I apply to be the Student Trustee.

I followed her advice, and when I got the position, even though I wasn’t obligated to go until my senior year, I started attending the meetings. That’s when I discovered, much to my surprise, that the SGA actually does stuff.

I was working under my high school and middle school assumption, when we had SGA and they met every once in a while so they could put things on their college applications/resumes and to plan one or two dances. No way in the world was I interested in doing something that didn’t really do anything.

College SGA is so different, but since I know that’s not good enough to convince any of you, allow me to tell you everything that it has done lately.

First, the SGA is the primary source of funding for the more than one hundred clubs and organizations we have on campus. Over the course of a year, it gives more than $160,000 to clubs. Other things it does each and every year include funding SafeRide, The Point News, Hawk Radio, the Dove Yearbook, and Programs Board (which does the weekly films, world carnival, coffeehouse, comedians, the Nest, and much more).

It hires recycling coordinators, composting coordinators, and an athletic trainer for club sports. Each year it also pays for the purchase of renewable energy credits to completely offset the carbon emissions from our electricity.

Outside of the yearly expenditures, the SGA passes numerous pieces of legislation to accomplish more things.

Some of these include the geothermal wells at the river center, the new club sports field between Waring Commons and Lot T, half the floating docks for recreational dinghies, the barn restoration next to the campus farm, the water trampoline, the Student Investment Group, the Green St. Mary’s Revolving Loan Fund, and, most recently, funding for the Campus Bike Shop (which will hopefully become an annual expenditure).

These aren’t all the things the SGA does, but rather a select list of some of the more prominent ones. With an annual budget of over $400,000, the St. Mary’s SGA has some real power. It is an opportunity for students to effect change on campus and to get events they want to happen to really happen.

It is a way to gain experience working with a collaborative body towards the betterment of the community. It is the voice of the students on all things, whether they are in line with the administration or in stark contrast. It is a tool with which to shape the College.

Any student can go speak their mind at a weekly meeting, contact their senators, or even run for office. Regardless of how you choose to get involved, you should do something. This is our home, and it’s time for us to step up and make it the best home possible.

For more information on the SGA, visit their website at www.smcm.edu/sga.

See you on the Path!

 

Should St. Marys Have Merit Aid?

I continue to talk to people who can no longer afford a St. Mary’s education. At the same time, there are people at this school that can conceivably afford the full cost, but don’t have to thanks to merit-based aid.

Many people who do receive merit-based aid cannot afford the full price, or would have great difficulty in doing so, but there are a great many who can.

Should they still have this aid, or should it all go to people who need it?

This is a conversation that is going on at various levels in the administration.

There are great arguments on both sides of the line, and any decisions are far off. So let’s look at both sides of the issue.

We should have merit aid. There are numerous gifted individuals who we should work to bring to the school through financial assistance.

We are the honors college of Maryland, and thus need to maintain academic standards.

If we can’t continue to attract the best and the brightest students from across the state and country, we’ll become just like any other public institution.

Our honors college designation would be a waste, and we would drop through the rankings like a rock in water.

We should only have need-based aid. We are a public institution dedicated to access and affordability.

If we cannot continue to recruit individuals from poor economic backgrounds, we’ll become an elitist school unfit to represent the state of Maryland.

Every individual deserves the opportunity to study at St. Mary’s, and we should put all our efforts and funds into ensuring that.

So my question to you is thus: should we eliminate merit-based aid or not?

What is more important to us as an institution: maintaining our honors college quality or providing the opportunity to more people who cannot afford this education otherwise?

Please email me at druthenbergmarshall@smcm.edu, or stop me on the path. For more information on what I do, go to http://www.smcm.edu/studenttrustee.

See you on the path!

 

Tuition Increases Likely for All Students

Allow me to apologize in advance, because most of what you’re about to read will not be good news.

There will be a tuition increase this year – likely around six percent for in-state and an equal dollar amount for out-of-state.

As with most of you and your families, this institution is suffering financially. Our Foundation is not able to give nearly as much money to the school as it has in the past, and our costs are rising.

How are our costs rising when inflation is so low and we’re doing so many things to cut cost? Three ways: first, cost cuts can only cover so much, as we cannot sacrifice the quality of our program for the sake of budget.

If we did that, we would become just another Salisbury or Frostburg. Second, despite low inflation, some specific expenses continue to rise rapidly. One example is retiree benefits.

Under state law, we are required to provide our employees with a certain level of retiree benefits.

When these premiums rise by ten percent, it hits us hard, costing the institution an additional half million or so dollars, without us seeing any additional benefits.

That hurts. While that is an extreme example, there are other instances of it littered throughout our budget and the budget of every institution in the country.

The third way is perhaps the most difficult one to accept. Our revenue stream is declining.

One of the biggest ways in which this is happening, though there are plenty of others, is through the change in percentage of out-of-state students.

Based on our best estimates, the incoming class of 2015 will likely have forty fewer out-of-state students than the outgoing class of 2011.

That means next year, the whole school will have forty fewer out-of-staters than it does this year.

With an average difference of $10,000 in tuition for in-state versus out-of-state, we’ll have approximately $400,000 less in next years budget.

But shouldn’t the state give us more money for the additional in-state students we have? Well, that’s how it works at most state schools, but we have what’s called a block grant.

That is, we have a certain chunk of money that we get every year, regardless of how many in-state and out-of-state students we have.

That amount normally goes up by the standard rate of inflation each year, and it will go up by that again this year.

The problem is, over the last two decades, the portion of our budget that we get from the government has declined by around twenty percent.

It used to be nearly half of our budget, and now it’s just over a quarter. Again, this raises the question of, “Why?”

In the 1990s, the state government asked us to increase our student population from 1450 to 1850. We said yes, despite not getting a bump to our block grant to coincide with the bump in students.

Earlier this decade, students were seeing annual tuition increases of more than ten percent at times.

This inequity, corrected by charging the students more, is one of the primary reasons our in-state tuition and fees are more than $5,000 higher than University of Maryland College Park.

Not coincidentally, our out-of-state costs are nearly identical with College Park.

These two numbers will go up by the same dollar amount, and not the same percentage, for the foreseeable future, as the college doesn’t want to unfairly distribute financial burdens.

So what’s going to happen with financial aid? The College has made a commitment to increase our financial aid budget by the same percentage as we increase tuition.

While this is necessary, it’s sort of like stealing from the left hand to feed the right.

With our financial aid budget at over six million dollars, a proportionate increase to that detracts from our added revenue due to tuition increase.

Let’s recap: tuition will go up for three reasons. We can only cut costs so much, some expenses continue to rise, and our out-of-state enrollment is shifting significantly.

The proportion of the state government’s contribution to our budget has decreased drastically over the last two decades.

Tuition increases back in the day were insane. Financial aid will still go up by the same percentage. Our budget is suffering big time, even with small tuition increases.

Where do we go from here? We keep looking for ways to cut costs without hurting our program, we keep pressuring the state government to continue with their support and, when possible, to increase it, and we look for more ways to increase financial aid.

As the state balances its books and the economy slowly recovers, things will get better.

Until that time, I promise to do everything in my power to keep tuition increases as low as feasible, and keep looking for new ways to raise money.

When this comes to a vote at the next Board meeting, I will be voting “no” on the issue. It will still pass despite this. Good luck to everyone in making next year’s payment, and I’m sorry I can’t do more.

An Offshore Account Comes Free With the Position

As we dive deeper into the search process for the 2012-2013 Student Trustee, I’d like to take an opportunity to fill you all in on what the Student Trustee actually does that makes the position moderately important.

And before you all stop reading, please know that I’ll do this in as self-deprecating and humorous a way as possible. No guarantees that I’ll succeed, but if you want guarantees then you should talk to a used car salesman.

Everyone knows St. Mary’s has a President, but much like everyone else in this world, even he answers to someone else. In this case, that someone else is that mysterious entity some of you may have heard of, the Board of Trustees (they answer to the governor, who answers to Barack Obama, who answers to Michelle Obama).

Well, that omnipotent group of individuals needs to have some checks and balances in place, so they don’t run amok and put all our tuition dollars in a Cayman Islands bank account. In this case, they created a position for one of those tuition paying folk we call students, who might not want to see his/her tuition dollars siphoned off the top. We call this position “Student Trustee.”

Now, before I go any further, I’d like to reassure all of you that I don’t think our current trustees would put our money in Cayman Island accounts and flee the country. They’re much more the Swiss bank account type of people.

Now, that “Student Trustee” thingy spends a year in training, getting to know the trustees and how the whole process works. Then s/he jumps into the full role of being the voice of the students and attempting to secure his/her own offshore account.

On the side, the Student Trustee gets to advocate for the students in such mundane processes as the Strategic Planning, mold fiasco solution brainstorming sessions, buildings and grounds initiatives, enrollment and student affairs happenings, tuition hikes/drops, internet ramblings, and anything else that s/he feels needs student representation and doesn’t have it.

The position opens doors that might otherwise have been welded shut by the Physical Plant.

In all these instances, it might be helpful to have the opinion of the student body as well. This takes us into the phase Einstein referred to as “information gathering.” This can be done a multitude of ways, from sitting on the patio with a giant sign looking like an idiot, to heated discussions over the pong table.

Sometimes it’s done through everyone’s favorite means of communication: the All Student E-mail. The critical step in this whole process is having people care about things. An impassioned student body gets things done.

So now, if you’re a first-year or sophomore, stop and think about whether or not you might make a good student trustee. If you’re a junior or senior, take a moment to chuckle at the fact that you’re more than halfway through/almost done, and then think if there are any first-years or sophomores that you know who would be good at this. Suggest it to them.

Stress the offshore bank account and the free use of recreational dinghies and kayaks to really sell them on it.

Students who are interested in applying should pick up an application at the info desk in the Campus Center, or e-mail me with questions. People who want to find out more about the position in general should check out the website, www.smcm.edu/studenttrustee.

And just remember, if you really want to get things done, be prepared to bribe someone; it’s what our government is based on.
See you on the path!

Student Trustee: Who We Are at St. Mary’s

The name St. Mary’s College of Maryland is steeped in meaning and tradition. We have long identified ourselves based on the sense of community people experience when they come here, or when they visit. As an institution, we have never doubted who we are, or what we do.

We are a community built on the foundation of openness, kindness and caring. We are active in the world, both on the small and large scale. In many ways, we already make such a difference in so many places.

However, over the years I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that reaches to every level of the campus community. People are beginning to care less about each other and about what this institution does. Many people who see a problem will complain about it, and then expect someone else to take care of it.

When walking down the path, most of us stare straight ahead, for fear of making eye contact with a stranger. There’s certainly not the culture of saying hi to everyone on the path these days. Heck, a number of people simply turn up their iPods and tune out the world.

Just the other day, someone came up to me during my office hours and said, “as a whole, we just don’t care any more.” While I wouldn’t go that far, she had a good point, and she’s not the only one I’ve been hearing it from.

I still know that we have a wonderful community when it comes to integrating new students into the campus culture, or banding together for the occasional service project. People are still passionate about the clubs they’re in, or the sports teams they play for.

Academics are certainly not falling to the wayside, as we continue to excel as the “Honors College” of Maryland. In no way am I implying that we have become an apathetic institution. I’m just saying that we need to rise above what is expected of us and open our eyes to the world of possibilities before us.

Margaret Mead once said, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” What I see when I walk down the path everyday is a small group of thoughtful people. There are two thousand of us, which in our insulated life by the river may seem like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things is really quite small.

The best thing about changing the world is that it doesn’t require titans or legendary figures such as Leonidas or Caesar. Ordinary students such as us can make a difference by being mindful of our actions. To live mindfully and in the present can help bring about a cultural transformation.

For now, all I ask is that we begin with small actions. When we pass a stranger on the path, say hello. Instead of stepping over a piece of trash, pick it up and put it in the next trash can. When people ask you for help, thoughtfully consider it before making a decision, and whenever possible, choose to help them.

If you feel as though you have the time, maybe even look into doing something larger. Get creative with how to better our community, no matter how big or how small the action may be. By bettering ourselves as a group, we put ourselves in better positions and better states of mind to go forth into the world and make a difference.

To quote Gandhi, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Much love to all, and I’ll see you on the path!