The Faculty Task Force on Undergraduate Academic Experience and ASG hosted a public forum on Thursday night, inviting students to speak about issues they face in their daily lives before the Task Force presents a report to administrators regarding the undergraduate experience.
During the forum, students brought up an array of issues, including mental health resources on campus, the accessibility of weekday career fair events, the need for an expanded Asian American Studies Program, as well as the creation of a Native American studies program.
In May, ASG launched a campaign to increase student representation on the committee, which will present Northwestern’s administration with its recommendations to improve the undergraduate student experience, according to a University press release. Prior to the “If We Pay, We Have a Say” campaign, Weinberg senior Riko Ohashi, the Vice President of Academics, was the only undergraduate student on the committee. In June, ASG President Noah Star and Executive Vice President Christina Kim joined Ohashi on the committee.
“I would say that since we’ve rallied, we’ve gotten a huge increase in student involvement,” Ohashi said in an interview after the event. “At the meetings themselves, it was me speaking in front of twenty adults – it’s nice to have other students back me up and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve experienced that as well.’”
The forum opened with a discussion on mental health, with students noting that the university’s current policies are not always conducive to ameliorating the sources of academic stress many students face.
“I personally sought help from CAPS [Counseling and Psyhcological Services] last quarter, and it took three or four weeks to get in there,” said Weinberg junior Isaac Rappoport. “At that point, it’s halfway through the quarter and if your stress is academic, you’re done, essentially,” he said.
Many students criticized the availability of services through the University, noting that in addition to the long waiting periods, the 12 session limit for CAPS services could be detrimental for many students.
“As a low-income student, and with a growing population of low-income students, the limit on your number of trips to CAPS should be waived completely,” said another student. “If you need mental health and they’re saying, ‘Oh, you’ve hit your 12 visits, you have to go into Chicago or Evanston,’ you probably won’t because you don’t want to burden your family with another cost.”
Several students commented that faculty members should be trained to recognize and work with students who may be going through mental health issues.
“It’s not just CAPS, it’s not just us, it’s not just you guys,” commented one student. “All of us have very limited things that we can do, but we all need to be very aware and responsible for our role in the community.”
Indira Raman, a Weinberg professor who serves as the chair of the task force, responded that the idea had been “percolating at many levels of people we’ve spoken with.”
The forum also invited students to discuss academic issues.
Several comments were made regarding the scheduling of midterms and finals on the same day, as well as the arbitrary nature of testing in some classes, and one student pointed out that Reading Week should be expanded to other colleges within Northwestern, since the benefits of the week are limited for students double-majoring across schools.
Additionally, students were invited to talk about the academic community, and the ways in which better relationships between students and professors could be fostered.
“In McCormick, I don’t have an academic community,” a student majoring in mechanical engineering commented. “One of the biggest things is that I can’t connect with my professors. I don’t see them like me, there are barely any female professors.”
Students also discussed the stigma surrounding taking less than four or five classes per quarter, particularly in relation to a large number of distribution requirements and Weinberg’s two-year foreign language requirement.
The forum, which lasted for an hour and a half, was seen as productive by both student and faculty representatives to the task force. The conversation mainly centered on the topics of mental health and wellness, academic environments, and administrative support.
“We got a lot of great ideas, great perspectives, beautifully articulated in many cases,” Raman said. “What’s most striking is that a lot of ideas are consistent with the kinds of things we’ve heard from many people at many levels of the university.”
Raman said that the task force has met with several student groups, such as Northwestern’s chapter of Quest Scholars, which advocates for low-income students. Individual faculty members on the committee have reached out to students, and the committee has also issued surveys of recent graduates and alumni.
“A lot of the things we’ve discussed during meetings were echoed in the student body meeting,” Ohashi said. “It was nice to see that we are on the right track, we’re talking about the right things."