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Caltech students want improved dorm support

April 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Students demonstrated at California Institute of Technology Wednesday, calling for more input about how dormitories on the Pasadena campus are run. The protestors want staff on hand to deal with student mental health issues.

The students want a say in how their dorms are run, including how to deal with mental health issues.

In 2009, three California Institute of Technology undergraduate students committed suicide. In response, the Caltech administration formed a mental health task force.

Part of what the task force has put in place is its "safety net." One aspect includes area coordinators who work with students on dealing with the high academic demands on campus. The students would rather see resident advisors who live in the dorms with them helping them deal with the pressures of academic life.

"The students are concerned with this, though, because they have had no say in the selection process or in how these area coordinators are going to go about doing their jobs," said Caltech student Chris Hallacy.

"People feel like the area coordinators, because they aren't given student input, we feel like they wouldn't mesh very well with house system," said Caltech student Naomi McArthur. "If the students can't trust the people that they are putting into the houses, then how can you really develop such a relationship that students can rely on these people when it comes to psychological crises or dealing with stress every day at Caltech?"

Caltech's vice president of student affairs, Dr. Anneila Sargent, was at the demonstration watching and listening. She said she's already met with students about their concerns.

"One of the reasons that they are having this is they like attention, but sometimes attention is too much," said Sargent. "We want to be sure that we have enough people in there to pay attention to them, and take care and be concerned if there are reasons to be concerned."

One of the things students and faculty are being taught is what behavioral indicators to be aware of.