response from the Student Counseling Center and Student Health
fortunes of FAME
response from Freshman Advising and Mentoring at Emory
Academic Exchange October/November
2000 Contents Page
The luxury of teaching small
classes affords me the opportunity to meet with students individually
on a regular basis. In our office meetings, we can usually solve
together their academic problems and concerns in fairly short
order, leaving time for chats about other aspects of their lives
at Emory. It is to be expected that these "office conversations"
touch upon some of the complaints students have about Emory.
In passing on some of their criticisms here, along with some
of my own observations, I mean to be constructive: as a newly
tenured faculty member, I now have a long-term stake in the quality
of life at Emory.
One of the most telling observations I have heard on student
life at Emory is that "students focus their work on Emory
but their lives outside of it." It is difficult to know
whether the nightly exodus to Buck-head and other off-campus
destinations is a result or cause of this state of affairs, but
a number of students who choose not to join the fraternity and
sorority organizations say they feel a lack of community here.
Asked for specific complaints and suggestions, they point to
a dearth of both space and activities that help students relax
and get to know one another (in a way that occasional band parties,
while important, do not). One student notes that the duc quite
literally lives up to its name: it is a University Center, not
a student center-not a space with comfortable furniture and a
couple of pool tables that invites hanging out.
As further evidence of the lack of sense of community, one points
to the social segregation of Oxford continuees from Emory students,
claiming that it is not the result of ostracism, but rather the
lack of social life focused on campus.
I have noticed this problem too: an Oxford continuee in one of
my classes felt so lonely and alienated here that she had a nervous
breakdown before the end of her first semester.
Some students perceive that Emory cares more about public relations
than its students. Two in particular cite the former "Freshman
Seminar" Program, now reincarnated as Freshman Advising
and Mentoring at Emory (fame) as a good selling point with news
polls and prospective parents, but less than successful at achieving
its own goals of providing both a social experience and academic
advising. fame reflects a sound underlying philosophy: students
who have individual contact with faculty mentors are likely to
have a more successful entry into college life. But fame does
not really provide individual contact. Shy students who might
get lost in a classroom setting are equally unlikely to speak
up in a group of eighteen, and one day is not enough time to
have meaningful advising sessions with eighteen students. By
their own accounts, students do not make friends in fame, but
in their dorms; an hour a week in a forced setting does not contribute
to their social life.
In my opinion, the time and attention given to the advising aspect
is far too small an aspect of the program, compared to the social
aspect. (I admit that my own experience with the then-Freshman
Seminar program was less than positive, including a student co-leader
who never showed up.) I believe that advising students is part
of my job; moreover, it is a part that I happen to enjoy, and
I hate to miss it by not participating in fame. But I want to
be involved in advising students academically, not driving them
around town to social events. Their Resident Advisors in the
dorm can do that. Give me ten freshmen to advise, and let me
take care of the scheduling.
Complaints abound on campuses everywhere about student health
services, and Emory is no exception. But certainly Emory University,
with all its medical resources, should be able to provide its
own students with respectable health care. A graduate student
I taught spent an entire semester utterly incapacitated with
frequent migraine headaches, denied access to a specialist by
Emory's medical coverage. Considering the cost of educating these
students, we should also invest in taking care of their health.
More troublesome is the recent increase in mental health problems.
Recently, in a class of about twenty students, four had problems
serious enough to seek help. Three of them ended up with incompletes,
and two never finished the course. This trend may well reflect
a national one, but that fact does not lessen the urgency of
responding to it by giving the Counseling Center adequate resources
to cope. The Counseling Center, run by the Division of Campus
Life, is administratively
cut off from Student Health Services, and the two do not communicate
In one case, one of the two psychiatrists (whose role appears
to be limited to writing prescriptions) neglected to provide
the counselor treating the patient with important information.
This same senior psychologist at the Counseling Center resigned
last year because, as she told me, she felt she was not able
to give her patients the care they needed under the operating
constraints of the Center. A number of sources assert that these
problems are not the result of a lack of dedication or capability
on the part of the staff, but rather a lack of resources. Other
students confide that they do not feel comfortable dealing with
counselors they fear might not understand their cultural heritage.
In a university with a growing international population, the
Counseling Center will need to increase its diversity to serve
A more serious alleged incident involving the Counseling Center
I report here because I think it highlights an underlying lack
of trust I sense on the part of a number of students toward Emory's
administration. One of my students claims that his roommate took
himself to the Counseling Center to seek help with a drug problem
and was several days thereafter expelled from Emory for drug
use. This student believes that the Counseling Center turned
his roommate in, and regardless of the truth of the incident,
this belief is in and of itself disturbing, indicating that some
students do not have faith in the very organization that exists
to serve them.
We are now in the process of bringing in a new Dean of Campus
Life. The person who fills this position will have much responsibility
for setting the tone for our students' lives at Emory. Some of
the conversations I have recorded here, as well as the events
of last spring, suggest that the Division of Campus Life needs
to send a clear message to students that their concerns are heard
and taken seriously.
I am a firm believer in the importance of sending messages. At
the University of Chicago, the entire incoming freshman class
attends a lecture by an eminent professor as an integral part
of their orientation to college life. At Emory, incoming students
attend a band party. Perhaps sponsoring both kinds of activities,
along with a few more social activities in a relaxing setting,
will send a more balanced message about what we think college
life should be.