Amid campus activism for a disability community center and for improved mental health infrastructure, the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) executive slate released funding priorities advocating for increased resources towards disability accommodations, counseling services and social opportunities. Additional priorities targeted academic advising, affordability, sexual violence prevention and faculty diversity.
ASSU executives Shanta Katipamula ’19 and Ph.D. candidate Rosie Nelson framed their budget presentation around a theme of student belonging.
“Students enter Stanford battling impostor syndrome while also coping with stress, mental health challenges and a new environment,” the report opens. “The vast majority of us arrive on campus without being prepared for the reality of life at Stanford.”
The report suggests that the stress of entering Stanford’s high-pressure culture continues when students are met with insufficient resources and support from the University, a thesis Katipamula and Nelson used to build their recommendations.
Disability community resources
Despite ASSU and activist efforts to create a permanent disability community center, Katipamula and Nelson’s budget proposals focus instead on improving existing accommodations for students with disabilities through the Office of Accessible Education (OAE).
The OAE “frequently burdens students with arranging their own accommodations and is ill-informed about resources available for students across different schools, departments and administrative units,” the report alleges.
OAE director Teri Adams did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.
Katipamula and Nelson also noted the OAE’s staff-to-student ratio, which they wrote is below the national average. According to its website, the office employs 13 full-time staff members to work with 12 percent of Stanford’s student body, the Stanford Disability Coalition co-director Richie Sapp ’13 told The Daily last November. Katipamula declined to provide exact statistics or specify how she and Nelson determined the OAE’s staff-to-student ratio is below the national average.
Katipamula and Nelson argue that understaffing has led to “a substandard level of support for our students with disabilities” which could be rectified by increased funding, training and programming to hire and retain more OAE staff.
“Additionally, faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows, teaching assistants and student staff would benefit from additional training on how to support students with disabilities,” the report reads.
Mental health resources
“Stanford has a mental health crisis, and it’s not new,” Katipamula and Nelson write to open a section on mental health.
Just over two weeks ago, over 100 students rallied on the steps of White Plaza to protest leave of absence policies — in which students suffering severe mental health issues are forced to take time off Stanford — they called “inhumane and deficient.” The rally comes alongside an ongoing class action lawsuit disputing those same policies.
“We know that we can do more in this area,” Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris wrote in an email to The Daily. “The ASSU and Student Affairs have been collaborating on our shared priority of advancing student mental health and well-being at Stanford.”
Harris emphasized the series of town hall meetings during fall quarter on student mental health.
To solve the “crisis,” Katipamula and Nelson advocate a two-fold solution. To address on-campus resources dedicated to mental health, the report recommends increasing and diversifying the staff of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), along with dedicating funding to develop new therapies and programming. In terms of bettering student mental wellness, it suggests creating “a more flexible pool of funds” for dorms to use for events and activities to help students unwind.
The ASSU executives’ third priority concerns the number of and training given to academic advisors, which Katipamula and Nelson call “crucial” to helping students navigate Stanford’s plethora of academic opportunities.
Specifically, Katipamula and Nelson zero in on academic advising directors, who are full-time advisors based out of different residence complexes. The executives argue that the number of advisors — 13 advisors who serve 7,083 undergraduates — is insufficient, and that advisors would also benefit from increased training and communication with academic departments.
“This restructuring of the AAD role while simultaneously increasing the AAD to student ratio would help students feel more at ease and a greater sense of belonging,” the report reads.
Apart from academic advising directors, students also work with at least one major advisor after declaring and with either a Stanford Newcomer Guide (SNG) for the Class of 2022 or with a Pre-Major Advisor (PMA) for all other class years before declaring a major.
This year marks the inaugural year of the SNG program, which is designed to provide mentorship for incoming frosh through completion of sophomore fall or until declaration of a major. SNG replaced the PMA program of years past, which received mixed reviews from students unsure of their advisor’s role.
After outlining the ASSU’s priorities, the report also touched on a number of issues Katipamula and Nelson hope the administration will “keep in mind through the next few budget cycles,” most notably affordability for first-generation, low income (FLI) students.
The executives highlighted that several university practices — such as charging course fees for some classes and closing dining halls over school breaks — create financial barriers and inaccessibility for FLI students.
It went on to elaborate that course fees in many programs, such as mechanical engineering or product design, require students to purchase additional supplies that “directly correlate to class grades,” emphasizing that the lack of a spending limit allows students with sufficient financial ability to spend more and deliver a more “impressive final product” than a student who does not have the same financial access.
To address these problems, the report suggested that Stanford get rid of course fees and take strides to eliminate food insecurity over spring break, as well as continue to support the FLI Office and the Leland Scholars Program (LSP).
The report also commended the University for establishing a need-based childcare grant, which Katipamula and Nelson recommended the University expand. Recently, the issue of graduate student affordability was thrust into the spotlight after a Daily report on the food insecurity and financial crisis some graduate students face.
“As a university, we are focused on our academic mission by providing students with the tools to create the next big startup, conduct award winning research and craft effective legislation once students graduate,” Katipamula and Nelson wrote to conclude their report. “However, to truly prepare students for the real world we must also support their mental health and wellness, which is rooted in creating a sense of belonging for students.”
Contact Zora Ilunga-Reed at zora814 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Erin Woo at erinkwoo ‘at’ stanford.edu.