Walkout Held in Protest of Lack of Counseling Services at Manhattan

By Jilleen Barrett, Features Editor/Managing Editor

The Student Government Association held a walkout on Friday, April 8, in protest of the lack of support from administration regarding mental health concerns on campus.

Liola Moody, vice president of the SGA, told The Quadrangle that she and the rest of the board saw students and faculty becoming frustrated with the lack of mental health resources available on campus. Between the ongoing pandemic and the passing of several community members in one semester, they felt a break was needed for everyone’s well being.

They originally came up with the idea of a “Day of Pause” to take place on Friday, April 8. However, the administration did not approve of the idea, so the SGA planned a walkout for that same day in protest of the decision. The plan for the walkout was for students to leave whatever class they were in at 11:10 a.m. and gather on the quadrangle.

The resolution for the Day of Pause was co-authored by Moody, SGA president Kevin Rojas and vice president of communication Jana Clark. The resolution was signed by 637 students, 30 alumni, 26 campus organizations and 63 members of faculty and staff.

Moody stated there were many specific events which led up to the decision to ask for a day off, most recently being the passing of Christian Gallante ’23 on Thursday, March 24.

“The inspiration for the Day of Pause came from two reasons,” Moody wrote to The Quadrangle. “The outrage expressed by the student body and faculty at the administration for not providing the opportunity for such a day on Friday, March 25, as well as the overwhelming circumstances of the last two years due to COVID-19, which have caused an immense decline in mental health … when it [the Day of Pause] was later denied, we (the SGA Eboard) voted (7-2, in favor) for the walkout.”

The idea and list of purposes for the walkout was communicated to students via a flier that was circulated on Instagram after it was posted on Moody’s personal account. The SGA was not allowed to post it on their Instagram, @mcstudentgov. It was slipped under the office door of President Brennan O’Donnell as well.

“We commend all of you for not only your own mental health needs, but advocating for those of your mental health needs of your community,” Rojas said to the participating students at the walkout. “And we can only hope that today’s the first of many opportunities you choose to take care of yourselves and one another.”

Moody expressed that she felt that students advocating for their needs was imperative because of the lack of support for the Day of Pause from the administration.

“While the administration reacted to the specific mental health issues presented at the meeting sympathetically, they expressed their beliefs that services and initiatives already in place on campus were sufficient for addressing the needs of students and faculty on campus,” Moody said. “They followed the meeting by instructing faculty to be lenient and understanding in response to students’ needs, but did not support the Day of Pause.”

One of the services provided is the counseling center, where students are encouraged to turn to during times when they may need extra support. However, many students have had issues with the center, which the resolution claims is “underfunded and understaffed to effectively address the needs of students.”

“The counseling center is run by admirable counselors who have been providing students with mental health services, based on need/want, and continued to do so virtually during the pandemic,” Moody wrote. “The center’s budget, though, suffered budget cuts, as did many organizations on campus.”

Another service which was meant to aid students this semester was the Jasper Day of Wellness. While the Jasper Day of Wellness happened to fall the day before the SGA planned for the Day of Pause, the two are not correlated according to vice president of residential affairs Zach Olivan.

“The Jasper Day of Wellness is NOT related to the Day of Pause, and or, the walkout,” Olivan said. “The Jasper Day of Wellness has been planned over the last three months and was originally intended to promote health, wellness, physical activity and community engagement … This event is taking place at a pivotal time, and we are looking for mass student participation in the all-day campus wide event.”

While Olivan says they hoped for many students to be able to take advantage of the day’s events, which included events such as a yoga class, some students expressed frustration that they could not go since they were not excused from class for it. 

“A lot of people weren’t given the chance to even go to that because we had class,” Kiara Paylor, a junior at the college who participated in the walkout, said. “So it kind of seemed like a waste to do it when there was no means for people to go … Thursday is a lot of people’s busiest day … I wanted to go but I couldn’t.”

Paylor also noted the “looming presence” of security guards and NYPD police officers on the quadrangle as more and more students gathered. As Moody said, this gathering would be a “peaceful opportunity for students and faculty to express their needs.”

Some people — including Izzy Frazza, vice president for the school of liberal arts on the SGA — felt their presence was unnecessary.

“​​I think that [the number of security guards and police officers] says a lot about the college’s response to the petition,” Frazza said. “We’re asking for more resources at the counseling center … I think we all pay enough money in tuition that it’s very little to ask for more than a few counselors in the counseling center.”

O’Donnell explained the reason for the seemingly high number of security guards at the event. 

“Whenever we have something that we think might attract people to come [who are not part of the Manhattan College community], it’s important to provide public safety for our own community,” O’Donnell said. “The police [were] not there to police the students.”

Public safety and the NYPD, he said, are always present at events such as basketball games as well. 

O’Donnell spoke with The Quadrangle during the office hours he held with the provost, Steven Schreiner, after the walkout was over. From one p.m. to four p.m., O’Donnell and Schreiner held these hours in order to speak directly with members of the community to learn more about their concerns. After speaking with students on the quadrangle and speaking with a few more students during the office hours, O’Donnell shared his thoughts on community mental health.

“I went up to students and I said, ‘How are you doing?’ … I told them that I was there in order to learn to listen and learn … in the spirit of moving forward as a community and so on,” O’Donnell said. “And so, everybody was very, very open and forthcoming and talked about everything from just being tired and worn down to specific things, having to deal with specific concerns about the college and how effectively it’s supporting [them].”

The president says after reading the resolution, attending the walkout and holding office hours, he now feels like he has a better understanding of the issues, and how change can be made to prevent them in the future.

“I read the resolution, so I saw those issues in there, and then of course, you know, today … We focused a lot of our questions and conversation on getting details about what actually is happening, and getting some ideas and making sure that we can address the perfect concerns that are voiced,” O’Donnell said. “[We] came to a very good understanding that we should be looking carefully at what we’re currently doing, in order to assess it against best practices, in order to make sure that we have the right approach to counseling and the right resources in order to be effective.”