As developing adults, college students face a variety of experiences, opportunities, and challenges that can affect, or be affected by, their mental and emotional health. Our panel of experts discussed common concerns and coping strategies, how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting student well-being, the resources available at Colgate, and how parents and family members can support their students. 

Panelists include Dawn LaFrance, Director, Counseling and Psychological Services; Pilar Mejía Barrera, Faculty Director, Hancock Commons; Senior Lecturer in Spanish; Mark Shiner, Associate University Chaplain and Catholic Campus Minister; Faculty Director, Ciccone Commons; and Rebecca Downing, senior director of communications and parent initiatives, moderator.

Additional Questions

We’ve compiled answers to submitted questions on subjects that we didn’t get to cover during the webinar. In some cases, questions have been edited for brevity, and similar questions have been combined.

For urgent issues and emergencies, how quickly can a student reach a counselor?

Our crisis/consultation hours are scheduled from 1:30-4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, when a staff member is available without other appointments to cover this time. If a student is in crisis, we will triage and make sure that we contact that student sooner if needed. It may require rescheduling another student’s appointment, but this is sometimes necessary. Additionally, students can call a counselor on call after business hours until we open the next morning (and on weekends) by calling our phone number and pressing #2 when prompted. 

What if students want more frequent sessions than the Counseling Center can accommodate?

BetterMynd is an online therapy platform created by a Colgate graduate. All of its counselors are NYS licensed. Unlike Colgate’s appointments, which are free of charge, BetterMynd’s services come with a cost, but students can use their own insurance.

Are they able to visit each other’s dorm rooms in their own building yet?
Due to the heightened risk of potential virus transmission in small spaces, students are not permitted to socialize within residence hall or apartment bedrooms throughout the semester. This is part of the Commitment to Community Health that they signed. That said, they have the option of safely socializing in common areas, which are larger and have capacity limits posted.

The campus safety (officers) seem to be extremely intrusive and are just looking to get students in trouble. First year students are having a hard enough time as it is. 
We realize this has been a very difficult semester, especially for incoming first-years trying to get acclimated to Colgate, college life, and make new friends — on top of adjusting to the expectations of the Commitment to Community Health. Campus Safety officers are taking an educational approach to commitment violations. They are not actively out looking for violations; the officers are responding to violations being reported (via phone and the online reporting system) by concerned community members. When officers respond and speak with students, they are informing them about the nature of the violation, the importance of the infection control measure they are violating, and ways to avoid future violations of a similar nature. Officers are only taking out case reports for wilful/deliberate violations that put the health of university community members at risk. Most of the Commitment to Community Health violations that have been issued are the result of Campus Safety responding to concerned community members’ reports. 

Colgate is running in-person campus tours for prospective is that being allowed?
Colgate is taking public health extremely seriously in all areas, including the admission process. The admission tour plan put in place was developed in concert with the rest of the reopening plan approved by NYS, following all necessary precautions and guidelines. As part of our protocols, we are taking steps to position our visitors, our guests, to be good guests — to understand the expectations for visiting, and managing their expectations for the visit. Through the information posted on our visit page and shared through our visit communication, we explain these expectations: registration is required; wear a mask, practice social distancing, no access to buildings. We also expressly state that those from states on the NYS Travel Advisory list must not visit if they have not completed the mandatory 14-day quarantine. There are also capacity limits to the number of guests.

Each visitor completes a health screening, and the staff reiterates expectations during the check-in/registration process at the office. We also supply visitors with a copy of the commitment to community health, and we have additional masks to distribute to visitors.  

One of the things we as parents are hearing from our student as well as what we read on the parent page and the Maroon News is that the workload from professors is much greater than last year. This is an additional stressor on the students. What is the administration doing to address this issue?

We checked in with the dean of the faculty office. Colgate asked the faculty to be ready to give a grade halfway through the term in case a COVID-19–related emergency required a university-wide shutdown, a student to have to stop their learning, or an instructor having to stop teaching. That said, we are not aware of the overall workload being higher than prior semesters. It is unclear whether the load is higher for the whole semester, or just distributed more equally, with more work having been asked for earlier. Many professors typically expect students to put in at least 3 hours of work outside of class for each hour of class. It would be hard to judge on an example-by-example basis whether asking students to watch a video in advance of a class is a larger task than asking them to read x number of pages or X empirical scientific papers. That said, department chairs have been made aware of the perceived increase in load, and they are talking with their department faculty about it.

Some students may be having difficulty separating classwork time from down time because so much of their days are spent in the same space — it all bleeds together. This is something that many of us can relate to. It can be helpful to suggest strategies for time management, setting aside specific time for work and specific time for self-care, exercise, socializing, and daily activities, and for purposefully and mindfully shifting gears in between those periods.

Will you address Ashley Bound's letter to the professors and any plan to go pass/fail? 

The Academic Affairs Board (AAB) met to consider a request originally brought to University leadership from students to change the grade mode options for the fall 2020 semester to mirror those of last spring (in particular, recording all grades as a P/X with students having the option to revert to letter grades for any or all courses on a course-by-course basis). After a careful and extended discussion, AAB formally voted not to implement a P/X option this fall, and agreed that, at a future meeting, AAB will discuss whether an alternative set of grading mode options for the fall of 2020 should be considered.

Have any outdoor outings been organized — either physical (hiking) or just a means to get off campus and explore?

Outdoor Education has and continues to offer numerous in-person local programs and outings this year, starting during the supervised outdoor time during the initial 2-week quarantine. Per University travel policy, we cannot take students out of Hamilton, but have been offering programs on campus, at the Beattie Reserve, at the Boathouse, as well as at some of the local trail systems like the Canal Path and the Southern Madison Heritage Trust sites around town. Our offerings include: hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, rock climbing and rappelling (at the Quarry above the Old Golf Course), tree climbing, geocaching, etc. 
Due to Gate and general COVID-19–based restrictions, group sizes are very small (usually no more than 8-9, including the 2 OE student leaders), but a few hundred students have taken part. They are currently in the "Fall 2 Session" of PE and Backyard Adventures; see offerings via the links on their webpage. They offered a similar slate of programs earlier in the semester (Fall 1 Session) and a set of options during the quarantine outdoor time and are hoping to squeeze in one more batch of programs before the end of the semester.

Are there any programs promoting, teaching, facilitating meditation for the students?

There are several! The campus calendar lists them and other types of wellness and health events and programs.

How do you encourage your son/daughter who seems to be isolating? They don’t necessarily want to hear from their parents. 

Sometimes it takes students a bit of time to find their "people," and certainly COVID-19 isn't making that any easier. We hear this from parents pretty frequently. Encourage your student to take part in the events offered by their residential commons, which can be a great opportunity to build her own circle.

Encourage them to find something to look forward to each day, whether it's getting a coffee between classes, going for a walk, or attending the advertised events on the Colgate Events Calendar.  

Weekly Lunch with LeeAnn sessions provide an opportunity to connect with a staffer at the Center for Leadership and Student Involvement (CLSI). Students can ask questions about CLSI, and any topics related to opportunities for connection outside the classroom.  

As well, their administrative dean can help them to identify opportunities to make connections. These folks are there to support and advise students in all aspects of their college experience.

The political climate and upcoming presidential election is a cause of anxiety for many. Does Colgate have plans in place to support students through this election season? How do students seek out support?

 Colgate is keenly aware that the election is adding yet another layer onto anxieties these days, and does indeed have resources at the ready for supporting students. 

  • The Colgate Vote Project has all sorts of election-related resources for students, including voting and candidate information, tips for combating media bias, and frequently asked questions regarding student voting. They collaborated with First Transit to modify regular Colgate Cruiser routes, making it easy to get to the local polls.
  • President Casey sent a campus email Oct. 23 about ways to learn more about this election and its potential consequences. He discussed how "this election cycle also arrives at a time when our nation continues to struggle to respond to the global pandemic. Further, we face the possibility that the outcome of the election may not be known for some time. Finally, this voting day comes at a time when faculty and students will be preparing for another transition, as the on-campus semester winds down, students prepare to travel, and courses switch to an online mode. In short, this might prove to be an intense and complicated time. Students should know that Colgate’s support services, including the counseling center and the chaplain’s office, and the administrative deans will continue to be available throughout this period. Peer support hours will be hosted by ALANA ambassadors and COVE." He also reminded everyone that "every vote matters. Truly. And while we may not agree on the issues of the day, we must engage with one another with kindness, civility, and respect."
  • The counseling center chaplain's office, and deans are all preparing for higher levels of student outreach during this period. In particular, the counseling center will have extra support hours, including drop in groups and additional counselors available Nov. 4 through 6 in the afternoons for 1:1 telehealth drop in sessions.
  • The Red Folder provides guidance for faculty and staff members on how to respond to, support, and refer students in distress through a framework of compassion.
  • In terms of events, the College Democrats, College Republicans, Students for Environmental Action, and the Colgate Vote project are cosponsoring a "March to the Polls" event on Election Day —  a nonpartisan event, following Commitment to Community Health guidelines.
  • The campus calendar lists other opportunities to engage about the election, including a Student Peer Listening Space and the Common Good Network and the Department of Political Science's What Happened and What’s Next?: A Post-Election Conversation with Colgate Faculty for faculty, staff, students, and alumni.
  • The You@Colgate personalized wellness resources platform has a module on coping with election stress; the platform emailed students about it on October 29.

We also encourage family members to help their students think through strategies for managing. For example, urging them to get critical work done early so that they don't add to their stress

What about the students who are suffering in silence, who are too intimidated to reach out to talk. Are there any anonymous spaces where a student can go?
Talking to their CL or Orientation Link is a good place to start — they are trained students. The student’s administrative dean is there to be a helpful resource as well. The administrative deans are committed to developing meaningful relationships with their students and to assist them in taking ownership of their Colgate education. They provide support while promoting students’ intellectual, personal, and emotional development. Your student’s administrative dean will be connected to their residential commons.

Attending a virtual outreach event — maybe not even participating, but just observing — could also be a way to ease in.

How do the first-years meet their administrative dean? Not sure this connection has happened for my child.

Students learn who their dean is in a few ways. The concept of an administrative dean is introduced in a summer letter to first-years, with a note that they will learn who their dean is once their housing is assigned. In August, all students receive a letter from their specific dean. This past year, there was a virtual open house where deans were present to meet new students. Students also receive a few emails over the semester from their dean; this year, the majority of that outreach has been COVID-19–related. Students will also receive an email from their dean in January. Students are welcome and encouraged to reach out to their administrative dean at any time.

Based on how things have gone this Fall (good and bad), what changes and new opportunities for encouraging engagement and mental well-being might we see next semester?
We are modifying the Universal Quarantine, including expanded plans for spring semester recreation time, including a longer midday recreation period in outdoor areas made accessible by augmented snow and ice–removal efforts; exercise in designated indoor locations, including the fieldhouse and Class of ’65 Arena; and physically distant, quarantine-compliant winter-themed outdoor activities.

Students will collect their mail and packages at Mail Services and those on meal plans will venture out to pick up take-out meals (all at designated times and locations) — which will provide additional opportunities to get out of their rooms for short periods each day. 

Additional efforts are in development and will be announced when the information is available.

Are the students going to have to quarantine for 2+ weeks again?

Yes, the two-week quarantine proved to be successful for keeping the Colgate and Hamilton communities healthy this fall, and it will be an important part of our plan to welcome students to campus for the spring semester as well. As well, the quarantine is Colgate’s way to ensure compliance with New York State Executive Order 205 and accommodate its variable list of travel advisory states. The two-week universal quarantine will be similar to the one held last semester; however, in light of what we learned during the fall, there will be some minor modifications. Read about the plans for spring 2021 return to campus.

What advice would you give to the students thinking about not coming back next semester? They will have to start from Gate 0 w/ another 2 week quarantine all over again… and the weather will make so much more difficult for mental health.

It’s important to remind students that we need to put the health of our students, staff, faculty, and our community first. That said, it will likely be difficult for some students, especially without the warm weather to enjoy. Students should take the time to weigh their options. For some, it may be best for them to work remotely from home. We are all adjusting to this way of doing things — not by choice, but because we have to. We hope that students who do decide to come take time to prepare for this over winter break.