Reflecting on value of a new campus space

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • February 11, 2016

At issue: Emerson College opens a reflection room on campus.

Our take: It's an ineffective quick fix for serious problems.

Emerson’s student life leadership has been excited to announce the opening of a Reflection Room in the Campus Center. It’s been lauded as an essential addition to the campus as an additional space for students to turn to during times of stress. It is intended to be a place for meditation and escape from campus life. It turns out that the reflection room comes with a surprising amount of bureaucratic loopholes and an even more surprising lack of substance and comfort.

In a college that struggles to have enough room for everyone—students have been complaining about the lack of both social and study spaces for years—the creation of a place solely for relaxation should be something we’re excited about. It shows that in an educational environment that’s so professionally-focused, there’s support from the administration for taking a step back and taking care of ourselves. 

But several features of the room in its current iteration quite simply fall short. Individuals or small groups (of fewer than 10) can rent it through Spacebook, but as of Feb. 10 it had to be booked at least 48 hours in advance. Located in the first lower level of Piano Row, the room lacks windows and natural light. Photographs belie a space that doesn’t look comfortable, inviting, or plush.

It’s worth praising the administration for at least a basic attempt to mitigate the complaints of their college students. That desire is something we appreciate as begrudged young adults already in debt for a total equivalent of some people’s first homes. But ultimately, it isn’t in anyone’s best interest to create a quick fix solution just to ease tensions and create a short term hush for the chaos. This is exactly what has happened in the case of this meditation center. Members of the community have been voicing a few specific concerns for a while—our campus lacks a dedicated student lounge, there’s not enough resources for psychological services for students in times of distress, and access to tools in place need to be made more accessible. These aren’t easy issues to solve and they’re also issues that can cause emotions to run high, so yes, it makes sense that administration may have jumped the gun to create some peace. But ironically, this cramped meditation room is just going to create more headaches in the long run.

While the college fritters away money on a room of (granted, well-intended) pillows and blank walls, we have actual mental health issues at this school that desperately need to be addressed. Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services currently has six licensed therapists on staff, 10 if we count the graduate student interns. Students can currently only see a psychologist in-person if they schedule in advance or use walk-in hours, two options that are useless in the event of a mental health emergency. There is only a one-hour time span for walk-in interviews, between 2:00 and 3:30, in which students can go to ECAPS for unexpected issues. Students aren’t allowed to see a therapist on a regular basis, either, because of an overcrowded schedule and understaffed office. We should have used the resources we spent on a pillow room to hire more therapists equipped to deal with mental health issues.

According to Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services’ most recent year end report, 16.7 percent of the undergraduate population sought counseling in the last academic year— compared to the national average for college counseling use at 11 percent. This is a good thing, but we should be working to achieve more. In 2014, a Center for Collegiate Mental Health study at Penn State surveyed over 100,000 undergraduates across 140 institutions nationwide, including Emerson, and found that the college’s students felt more overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, and lonely than all other students nationally. But despite the demand, ECAPS director Elise Harrison told the Beacon that students wait on average over two weeks for counseling to meet with one of six psychologists. The evidence of a need for more robust and vigilant mental health services on campus is overwhelming. Our peers deserve more than a Band-Aid solution in the form of a lackluster, windowless room.