Student drinking, ‘rampant’ mental heath issues also top concerns of Student Affairs
By Charles Hallman
Conclusion of a two-part story
A series of criminal attacks on and around the University of Minnesota main campus during the summer and fall has created both anxiety and concern about public safety of both students and staff. These attacks also have concerned many Black students, especially males who believe that they are now racially profiled due to descriptions given to police by the unfortunate victims.
“I’ve been listening to students [of color] who say they have been racially profiled,” said U of M Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Danita Brown Young during a recent MSR interview. “Or they feel that people are looking at them differently because they are a male of color, and that the descriptions constantly say, ‘Black male.’
“The problem is this: Most of the perpetrators of the crimes have been people of color,” continued Young, who, in recent meetings with top school administrators and law enforcement officials, has been advising against using simple descriptors in campus crime alerts.
“They could be Dominican or Cuban or Ethiopian,” explained the dean. “We do need to try to move away from those descriptors and just focus on crime.”
She added that lately campus police have focused more “on the behavior versus the race. I think they are looking at everybody. We definitely have been talking with our [campus] police about focusing on behavior and not
just trying to generalize every male of color.”
“We really have tried to listen and work with our students of color, particularly our males. If you feel you are stopped unnecessarily, come and let us know immediately so that we can address the situation.”
The U of M’s main campus “is mixed with the city,” not unlike other campuses around the country, said Young. “You have to work in tandem with City police and City officials to help with safety issues,” she pointed out, adding that students still should be pro-active in their own safety.
“What I’ve heard from some is students saying, ‘Well, I’m OK,’ ‘I’m macho enough,’ ‘I’m invincible,’ ‘I should be able to walk from here to the neighborhood, and I should be fine.’ It is not always like that,” said the dean.
Young joined the U of M last June but says she is still “getting the layout of the land and the culture” at the school. As a result, her primary goal for her office is “reorganizing my area [so] that we can be more effective and efficient when we are serving the needs of students, listening to students to hear about how they want to shape their experience [and] what they want to obtain from the U of M.
“But we do need to meet our students and reach them more and educate them more about safety, the leadership opportunities they have, [and] about mental health issues. We’re constantly about education and information,” she said.
“Mental health issues are rampant, particularly among our 18-to-25-year-olds. It could be transition, rejection — it could be just not socially fitting in. There could be a history of depression in their family or anything traumatic that has happened to them,” said Young, who added that academic pressures also could be a factor, “and they can’t handle it.
“We are looking at ways to reach more students [such as with a] ‘texting hotline’ or an app that students can immediately be connected to a counselor or first responder if they are thinking about harming themselves,” said the vice-provost. Her office also is looking at training dormitory resident assistants “because they are our greatest eyes and ears — they see those students more often than we would. So if we can train them to start identifying some changes in behavior or hygiene, or starting to miss a lot of classes…it’s really about prevention.”
Students’ drinking also is a concern for her office, especially during the cold winter months — there have been incidents of students suffering from frostbite after being exposed to the frigid elements while intoxicated, said Young. “The messaging that I have [sent] to our students is that if you are going to drink, drink responsibly. One, be of age, and do not leave your friends alone. If you are going to drop them off, make sure that they are OK. Make sure that they get inside their location and destination safely. We have to do more educating and messaging about leaving students alone.”
Her office is focused on all students, whether on campus or via commuter: “If there are students who have children or are married, then that program helps support them,” said Young of “a parent-student help program” being developed in Student Affairs. “We also have leadership development [and] co-curricular engagement.”
Her overall goal is “to really have [students] connected to the institution, the university, because we know from experience that those who are connected or involved in at least one student organization or co-curricular activity fare well. They get connected and start making friends and start developing their leadership experiences and teamwork, and their GPA is typically higher. They often have a better connection with the university if they are involved.”
U of M students who don’t stay on campus “do present unique challenges — they are living at home. There are some cultural barriers. They are not on campus, so they don’t have an RA (resident assistant) to help them get involved,” noted Young on the university’s “Commuter Connections” program.
“We really want to look to start a ‘Virtual Hall’ program. We would look at all of our commuter students, group them by zip code, and we would assign a ‘community advisor’ — like a [dormitory] RA — who would be responsible for contacting them throughout the semester, helping them to get involved, get connected and meet new people.”
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