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Solutions: Because solidarity isn’t enough

On Feb. 16, 2023, an article was published by one of the bravest people I know — Camila Hernandez-Quintero. In 1,500 words, she lays her story bare for the Carleton community to read, feel and be confused by the complete unresponsiveness of the Carleton administration. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, a video posted on the Carls Talk Back Instagram showed Camila rising up in a room full of people to tell her story again. Her courage was not given the time of day. As the audio and video of the meeting corroborates, President Byerly interrupted Camila, asking if  “there are others in this room who want to move onto other concerns and questions” and stating that Camila could talk with Byerly “privately.” In response to Byerly’s statement, no, we don’t want to move on to another concern.his conversation and the subsequent action can’t fit into one town hall meeting or a couple un-empathetic responses. It will not be handled privately because Carleton told a mother -– whose child was in the ICU — to go pack up her daughter’s room. Camila isn’t the only one who has been cast away in favor of protecting  Carleton’s “welcoming” reputation, and if there aren’t drastic actions taken, more will follow. As Camila asserts in the video, “silence is violence.” This article will serve to voice solutions to the administration’s callous response, so no other student has to go through what Camila and others are currently experiencing.

A path toward rectifying the aforementioned indifferent actions happens in two layers — both necessary but neither sufficient on their own. The first is on the individual case for Camila. Carleton should apologize to the Hernandez-Quintero family formally and publicly.. In that apology, Carleton should apologize for the mistreatment of Camila based on her mental health, her family’s experiences of racial discrimination and microaggressions and the lack of subsequent response to the truth becoming public. 

While nowhere near enough, admitting wrongdoing is essential to moving forward with a new foundation of respect and trust for the issue at hand. Secondly,  an internal review of the actions of the Carleton administration that should be released in its entirety to the public. If Carleton doesn’t want to change how they support students’ mental health, then we deserve to know how this process works in practice, not simply in theory. Thirdly,  the Hernandez-Quintero family, Dean Williams, Dean Livingston and President Byerly should meet. The meeting should not have a time limit and will end when the family decides it should end. If it goes for a full day, then so be it–if the administration had time to put Camila on administrative withdrawal, they have time to talk. Finally, there should be an open question and answer session, lasting a full day, with Dean Livingston and President Byerly for students to share their experiences with mental illness at Carleton —  I know there are many. 

For an institution who thinks of themselves as welcoming, the above actions form a shockingly low bar that the school must clear. Once they do, the second stage of the plan can be considered — stopping something like this from ever happening again. I am by no means a medical expert, but there are several common-sense policies Carleton can implement to improve mental health care at Carleton. 

The first is a more flexible housing policy. A person’s living space should be a place of grounding. However, for those whose roommate matching did not go as planned, the space can become a place to avoid. Not having that safe place — especially for people with mental health issues — leads people down harmful paths. Taking all that into consideration, it would make sense for Carleton’s administration to provide flexibility in housing accommodation. Unfortunately — based on conversations I’ve had with other students — the current policy is anything but flexible. While I understand there must be some consistent practice regarding housing arrangements, there are students who have been denied housing accommodations after describing their mental health issues. That should never happen and requires adding flexibility to Carleton’s housing policy. 

The second is free long-term counseling. Carleton College currently offers short-term therapy for free. While an important step, offering accessible long-term care is critical for illnesses such as anxiety and depression. This can take a few different forms, whether that be through the subsidization of referrals, removing limits on the number of free sessions or bringing in counselors from the community. In any case, a dramatic increase in access to confidential counselors is imperative for bettering mental health at Carleton.

The third is creating academic accommodations for people with mental illnesses. While I am not advocating for a less rigorous Carleton, testing and assignment accommodations similar to what students with learning differences receive would be a way to reduce stress on students who are already struggling. 

The last in this list, but certainly not the least important, is creating an environment in which students of marginalized identities feel heard and valued. Coming from a white male, I don’t believe it’s my place to decide how to do this. What I will say is that it can’t simply be extra programs. Creating interest houses is great, but unless the systems change, they are nothing but a Band-Aid for  an unsustainable system.

Whether the Carleton administration will take any of these steps is ultimately up to them. I understand — although greatly disagree with — the reluctance of the college to accept when they make a mistake or admit that the system needs to be fundamentally altered. As much as this is a crisis of policy, it’s also a crisis of not listening. When you tell a student that they need to move out, they feel exiled from the community. When you tell someone that you will schedule a time to talk, and don’t, then students don’t feel heard. I don’t assume the people involved in the decision or the administration have malicious intent. I just ask that the administration begin to engage in reflective practice and evaluate their policies on student well-being. No more going through motions from one crisis to the next, but instead truly valuing the students they govern and creating policies that benefit everyone. The system will never be perfect, but empathy from the administration can bring it a whole lot closer to the “welcoming” community we all strive for.  

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  • C

    CSA SenatorFeb 28, 2023 at 1:56 pm

    To quote our most recent CSA meeting: ” we don’t just go from 0 to 100 out of the blue”. There is a process in determining whether a student will be placed on a leave of absence that Dean Livingston explained and held a Q & A session about during CSA senate on 2/20. The meetings are available to the public and the notes that Eliot writes up are published for the entire student body to read.

    The Dean’s office conducts multiple meetings with both the student, family, and other parties involved (usually from my understanding the individuals who CCF’d the student).

    I would implore the author to do their research before writing. There were many concerns about this process raised in senate and I would imagine that the author might have some of their own. However, it is slightly irritating when we provide opportunities for the student body to question administrators and then students complain about the lack of opportunity to meet with admin. Likewise it is slightly ridiculous when students complain about a lack of transparency regarding certain administrative processes when administrators do respond. The issue here is that some members of the student body fail to do their own homework before taking to the Carletonian or social media.

    I am glad to help explain these things to my peers however at a certain point Google and other simple search methods exist.

    • C

      CommenterMar 2, 2023 at 1:47 pm

      The meeting notes from 2/20 aren’t on the CSA website. It only shows up to 1/16/23.

    • G

      Gabriel SeidmanMar 9, 2023 at 10:05 am

      1. At the time of writing the notes were not published. They now are and I think hold a lot of valuable insight.

      2. As for the process regarding administrative withdrawal. The handbook contains a section that includes administrative withdrawal and it essentially says we take it on a case by case basis. The notes on 2/27 have sightly more detail.

      3. I would love to attend more meeting but I am either working or have other commitments. However, I will do my best to be more involved.

      4. President Byerly sent out an email last week discussing next steps and that response and the actions contained satisfied most of the complaints in the second portion of this article.

  • J

    John DoeFeb 26, 2023 at 11:59 pm

    Demands like “free long-term counseling” are so clearly removed from any sort of understanding of the cost and what that would mean for the student body. So many students complain about rising tuition costs and lack of class diversity at Carleton but also simultaneously advocate for ludicrously expensive services like these that create those exact problems.

    It is articles like these that show the administration that there is no real conversation about improving student life at Carleton that can be had. The ignorance of the economic feasbility, the victim mentality, and the constant appeal to emotion that is displayed in complaints such as those in this article show the administration how unserious these advocates for change at Carleton are.

    As long as the conversation around changing student life and mental health at Carleton is dominated by this type of unreasonable rhetoric the administration will continue to treat these demands as childish temper tantrums.