Sept. 13, 2010

Murphy: The conversation continues on student well-being

Cornell continues to develop long-term strategies for the health and well-being of students and the community.

Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy updated about 80 students, faculty and staff on recent developments at a Sept. 10 forum in Goldwin Smith Hall's Kaufmann Auditorium.

The strategies range from outreach and education programs to an expansion of clinical services and exploring "means restriction" on gorge bridges -- structures on or under bridges that could restrict the means of suicide from them.

"This is not the only or the last but rather the first of what we anticipate to be many conversations with the campus community as well as the local community about our broad-based strategy around student health and well-being, and ... community health and well-being," Murphy said.

She opened the forum by outlining new outreach programs to encourage students to ask for help. At orientation this year, all new students watched "Real Students, Reel Stories," a 15-minute video in which student leaders, recent graduates and alumni talk about challenges new students may face, such as problems with roommates, coming out, plagiarism and academics. President David Skorton appears in the video and speaks about his difficulties as an undergraduate; during one semester, he had to deal with family illnesses and as a result he flunked a course.

Means Restriction Study meetings

Two meetings on the Means Restriction Study, a project to improve the safety of gorge bridges, will take place Sept. 14. Information presented at the meetings will be identical.

Cornell University Architect Gilbert Delgado will introduce the architectural firm, Office dA, which the university has selected to investigate ways to design bridge-related means restriction on and near the campus. He will also outline the timeline and phases of the study, and highlight opportunities for public discussion and feedback. Representatives from Office dA will discuss their prior work and experience with landscape project design. The two sessions are scheduled to facilitate the participation of all interested parties. The city and university are partnering in this effort.

Session 1: 12:30-1:30 p.m., G10 Biotech, Cornell

Session 2: 4:30-5:30 p.m., Holiday Inn, 222 S. Cayuga St., Ithaca.

The College of Engineering will introduce another film this fall, showing it in a course required for all first-year engineering students. In "Notice and Respond: Friend to Friend," two students about to go to a party see a roommate who is acting distressed and talk about the courses of actions they can take, Murphy said. "If it goes as we hope, [the film] will be available across campus."

She also gave updates on Cornell's clinical services. Gannett Health Services has expanded its hours for counseling and is seeking funding to meet what officials expect will be an ongoing need for more counseling. The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly has organized an ad hoc committee on mental health, she said.

With input from the city of Ithaca in the last two months, the university has hired architect Nader Tehrani of the firm Office dA to design permanent means restrictions to limit access to bridges as a means of suicide. The design process will engage both the Ithaca and Cornell communities, and ultimately lead to consideration of design proposals by the appropriate city of Ithaca boards.

In the meantime, the university has replaced the chain-link fences it installed in the spring with less obtrusive black fencing. The city has required Cornell to propose designs for long-term means restriction by May 2011 or remove the temporary fences.

Asa Craig '11, student-elected trustee, asked whether the university is talking with faculty about decreasing students' academic workload. Each faculty member has to determine the correct level of rigor for his or her class, Murphy said. And while the Faculty Senate is considering revision of the academic calendar and advising policies, there are no easy administrative answers, she said.

Isaac Taitz '11, vice president of outreach for Cornell Minds Matter, a student group that advocates for mental health awareness, asked if the means restriction design committee will look at proposals designed by students. University Architect Gilbert Delgado said the committee will consider students' ideas during the brainstorming phase.

Ulysses Smith '14, the Student Assembly representative for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP), asked if the university has challenged individual colleges to improve students' access to faculty advisers. Murphy encouraged Smith to meet with her, AAP's dean and associate dean, and Dean of Students Kent Hubbell, and said that associate deans are looking at the issue of advising on a college-by-college basis.

Other topics discussed included helping students to find meaning in their lives, the academic calendar and the use of sculpture for means restriction.