BY MELISSA JOHNSON ’20
On Tuesday, Oct. 2, the Blanchard Great Room was filled with Mount Holyoke senators and students as the first town hall meeting of the semester kicked off. The meeting featured three panelists: President Sonya Stephens, Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Marcella Runell Hall and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Kijua Sanders-McMurtry. The meeting gave students space to express their concerns and questions they had about their organizations and personal lives on campus.
The panel was moderated by Chair of Senate Salina Hussain ’21, who helped choose students to ask questions and guided the conversation throughout the night. Topics brought before the panel included questions about the Health Center, connection with low-income students and further fundraising for the college.
In relation to the Health Center, students criticized the lack of mental health resources available on campus. “All [counseling] sessions are free and without limitations on this campus,” said Hall in response.
In addition, Hall mentioned that the Health Center has added 24/7 counseling resources this year — students can call a new care line, and there will always be a human to answer, no matter the time of day of the call.
Students also brought up the difficulty in scheduling appointments with the campus psychiatrist. “Currently, we’re desperately trying to get an additional psychiatrist on campus,” said Hall.
Another main issue brought up during the meeting was the college’s plans for increasing support for low-income students. “When will there be a pre-orientation program for low-income students?” one student asked. The question was met with many snaps and claps throughout the audience.
Sanders-McMurtry followed up, stating that a specific timeline has not been decided, but there are lots of plans surrounding further diversity programs on campus.
“A main part of my job is to help us think about how we align our policies and processes of the college in terms of diversity,” said Sanders-McMurtry.
In addition, President Stephens added that Mount Holyoke has partnered up with the Raise Me Up scholarship program, which reaches out to low-income high school students in preparation for college.
“We’re the only women’s college that is a part of this program currently,” said Stephens.
When asked directly about how she spends her time as president, Stephens said, “I spend around 50 percent of my time fundraising for the college.” Later in the evening, a student asked what Stephens is currently fundraising for.
Stephens explained that fundraising is a continuous job, and the money she raises will be used for various things, such as student financial aid, new faculty positions and finishing the campus Makerspace in the future.
For students who missed the first Senate meeting, there will be future meetings every two weeks on Tuesday nights in the Blanchard Great Room at 7:30 p.m.