Ever since its founding in 1874, the Colorado School of Mines has been expanding. Four years after becoming a territorial institution, the first commencement ceremony featured only two graduates. Now Mines supports a combined student body of over 6,000, and the campus will continue to grow. The Mines administration has spent over a year analyzing ideas, taking recommendations, refining, and finalizing ways to implement its latest ‘master plan.’ A summary of future goals and construction plans was released February of this year, and some current students are feeling overlooked.
This frustration manifested in the pedestrian plaza on Monday, Apr. 16 when a few Mines scholars, led by computer science junior Alex Pollock, set up poster boards to get student input about their concerns. “We’re out here trying to gather data to illustrate to our campus leadership how frequent[ly] these frustrating problems [occur],” said Pollock. “And also, hopefully gather some more immediate solutions for them.”
Buzz for this event started several weeks ago, with a post on ‘what’s your beef’, a platform hosted by the undergraduate student government as a public forum for campus issues. The post made several harsh claims about the impact of the master plan on the student body, and called for a “sit-in”. Several days before the event was set to take place, the post was deleted.
“In the ‘what’s your beef’ post, we went [for a] very inflammatory [tone] in order to stir the pot and get people to pay attention,” said Pollock. “That’s not what we want to be doing to find solutions going forward; that’s not constructive.” The event was re-labeled as a brainstorm after the post was deleted (it has since been put back up). “Most students have been really positive and really grateful that we’re doing this,” said Pollock.
The primary issues addressed at the ‘tabling’ included mental health, availability of parking, class sizes and on-campus housing. “There are these four big issues,” said Pollock. “When I was a freshman I kind of noticed them, but it wasn’t that bad because I loved so many other things about this campus.” After studying abroad, Pollock started to realize that some of these issues did not exist at other universities. “I noticed a much healthier campus culture,” said Pollock. “They still had the rigor, not as rigorous as Mines, but they had a much healthier mentality.” When Pollock returned to Mines, she was able to see things more clearly. “Campus culture, in my opinion, had gotten more negative. I had noticed that people complained about these four things all the time.”
The main problem expressed by students was that the university is investing heavily in the future, and looking right through the issues of the present. The students cited the master plan, but several of the issues they brought up were a part of the Mines@150 set of goals (a plan for the relatively short-term timeframe of 2024). These goals include getting more students to live on campus, being a first-choice university, and increasing the amount of research done on campus to $100 million annually.
Most of the visual change on campus is a result of the Mines@150 initiative. The residence halls and parking garage are things you can point at to show that Mines is trying to reduce the number of cars on campus, provide additional student parking and offer more options for upperclassmen to live on campus. “We acknowledge that you’re trying to grow our campus to fit how big we’ve gotten in the last few years,” said Pollock. “But all those [solutions] are in the long run, and they’re not really helping students in the short-term.”
“One of our Post-its say ‘I’ve cried about parking before’”, said Pollock. “Crying about a class, or a test, that’s understandable, but you should not have to cry because you can’t get to class on time.” One of the ideas the students offered at their event was incentivizing alternative transportation. Pollock pushed for finding ways to promote carpooling and public transportation, so the people that rely on the parking infrastructure aren’t stuck driving in loops. However, the main reason she set up tables in the pedestrian plaza was to advocate for mental health.
“I think it is ridiculous that we have almost averaged a student suicide per semester,” said Pollock, “and we still don’t offer free counseling for every student, every semester.” To clarify, counseling services are a part of student fees, and available to all students enrolled in four or more credit hours. The counseling office is open Monday through Friday, 8:00-5:00 (contact 303-273-3377 to make an appointment).
“Right now, you typically get to been seen for one semester or two before they try to transition you off campus,” said Pollock. “And that’s because they don’t have the capacity to address the need.” The counseling program at Mines is a fantastic resource, but, at times, some students feel like it is stretched thin. “I really am hoping that more funding and focus is placed on our counseling center,” said Pollock.
After our interview, with Pollock President Johnson and Vice President of Student Life Dan Fox addressed the issue in a campus wide email regarding the passing of a Mines employee:
“We know well how pervasive the mental health crisis really is… As communicated previously, we have launched a suicide prevention and mental health task force here at Mines who will implement recommendations developed with outside professionals… They, and we, recognize the urgency of this work… There is more to do, and we will do it together.”
Mines is heavily investing in its future, and is making strides to solve problems in the student community. That does not mean that they do not value or fund mental health care on campus. However, students see construction, which they do not equate to progress. Moving forward, Pollock would like to collect as many opinions as possible, and is asking for your thoughts regarding these issues (survey available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DFPJZ28). Whether students like it or not, the Mines campus will continue to expand and modernize. Communication is the best start to make sure we deal with the growing pains.