USC hosts first of new ‘Student Conversations’ series

Ainsley Carry, the vice president of Student Affairs, hosted the event with Student Health Services. The talk was meant to provide a space for students to ask questions on a broad range of topics. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)

With a small crowd of fewer than 20 people, Student Health Services and the Division of Student Affairs hosted its first “Student Conversation” to discuss campus-wide concerns Thursday evening.

University leaders from the Engemann Student Health Center and the University administration addressed suicide awareness, sexual harassment on campus, the proposed restructuring of the Engemann Student Health Center and the addition of new student services.

“One of the things that we realized from this summer and with my involvement with meeting student government is that we really have this opportunity to sit down and to just have a ‘powwow’ to talk about what’s going on, what’s working, what’s not working and to hear your advice,” Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry said. “We’re not reacting to a crisis right now, but there are always things that the administration should be spending time to listen to students and to talk with students.”

Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman elaborated on the letter sent on Aug. 20 discussing changes to the health center. She said that in order to enhance the mental health department and allow more students to receive help, the center will hire 10 therapists this year, and two more for the next academic year.

Executive Director of Counseling and Mental Health Services Robert Mendola spoke about the creation of the “Let’s Talk” program, which aims to help students who do not feel comfortable reaching out to the health center for help with mental health. The program will allow therapists to come to students.

“‘Let’s Talk’ is really opening the door to one-on-one communication around building report for care,” Mendola said.

Van Orman added that the health center hopes to break the language and cultural barrier with students, following allegations that former gynecologist George Tyndall targeted international students who had limited knowledge of medical practices.

“One of the things we’ve worked on is developing a guide for students that was translated by the Chinese Student Scholar Association,” Van Orman said. “We’re also working with some of our educational materials [where] I spent a lot of time thinking about how to communicate with students about sensitive health exams and to communicate what’s normal during those exams [and] what’s not … and that is actually being translated into Chinese and Korean.”

Another segment of the forum discussed the suicide of a resident assistant last spring and how the University is working to prevent this type of situation. One student said that RAs cared for students on their respective floors, but asked who was taking care of the RAs and their mental health.  

Carry responded by saying that training sessions were set in place for RAs to understand their own wellbeing. He added that an RA support group had also been created.

“Being a RA is a tough job,” Carry said. “They’re student leaders, they’re busy, they’re also students. They’re just like every other student in our population, struggling with all of the challenges.”

Two more of these conversations are scheduled to be held at the University Campus Center on Sept. 5 and 11; another one will be at the Health Sciences Campus on Sept. 4.