Mental health, retention of Black students discussed at Town Hall

By Hadassah Umbarger, Staff Writer

members of the cabinet said at a recent Town Hall meeting, where students were able to pose questions to Newman’s top administrators.

Those two topics were among many brought up during the meeting, which happened on Tuesday at noon in the Dugan-Gorges Conference Center.

Among those present were SGA President Gabrielle Altenor, President of Newman University Kathleen Jagger, Director of Athletics Joanna Pryor, Dean of Students Christine Schneikart-Luebbe and Director of University Relations Clark Schafer.

Director of Multicultural Engagement and Campus Life Joseph Shepard was also present and added comments.

Many questions and comments were brought forward, including concerns about the coronavirus and how Newman is taking precautions, plans for the unused space in the library where The Grind and the bookstore were formerly located and how Newman is responding to national problems with racism.

Students wanted to know, since the bookstore and The Grind have both closed, what is going to be done with the space now.

Cabinet members said that they’re hoping to utilize The Grind space in the most effective way for students, but the pandemic and low funds forced them to close The Grind.

Cabinet members said that The Grind was not financially feasible, but they are looking at different ways of utilizing the space for students.

The bookstore will continue to operate in an all-online approach and will mainly offer textbooks, they said.

At one point, a member of SGA came forward and talked about mental health issues for students and about what has been done to help students.

The SGA senator said that while SGA appreciated the interest university officials have been showing for students’ mental health, many SGA members felt that they were not being taken seriously.

Altenor said that this is a problem that is not only for students but for faculty and staff as well, and the fact that everyone sees this as a problem should be a motivator to find ways to move forward.

President Jagger then spoke, saying, “I will say, as president, that I’m promising you that we will be taking a look at this.”

A student came forward and asked about precautions for COVID-19, asking if there were any plans to better protect students in the spring semester.

Cabinet members responded by pointing to the advances in precautions that were made this semester, especially in the athletic department, and they noted that both the basketball teams and the wrestling team will begin weekly COVID-19 testing when their competitions begin in an effort to keep students safe.

They also mentioned the COVID education team that was put together this semester as a way to keep students informed about preventive practices.

Finally, concerns were raised about Newman’s low retention rate of Black students, and what Newman is doing concerning the racist crimes that have happened throughout the nation this year, especially the killings of Black Americans.

President Jagger invited students to help instigate change on campus.

“One thing that you can help us do is identify the ways in which this campus community makes you feel unwelcome,” Jagger said. “What can we do better with you? What can we do better for you? What can we do better to support you?

“Are we going to fix this problem on our campus? No, but we can reject it. We can reject that kind of interest… We can’t make a statement about it, but we can in our actions, demonstrate that everybody is valued,” Jagger said.

Joseph Shepard also commented on the issue.

“The tough conversations are happening. I want you all to trust that they are happening,” Shepard said. “But I also want to take this moment, as a Black man, in this space, to say we can do better. And I think that’s what a lot of our students want to hear.”

PHOTO: Courtesy Photo, Newman University Facebook, Screenshot