Editorial: Are we really heading towards a better CWRU?

Why For a Better CWRU isn’t the saving grace the university thinks it is

Editorial Board

On Oct. 1, 2021, the Case Western Reserve University community received an email detailing the progress of For a Better CWRU’s task force proposals. There are seven committees: the LGBTQ+ Committee, the Mental Health Committee, the Sexual Misconduct Committee, the Greek Life Committee, the Gender Equality Committee, the Disabilities Resources Committee, and the Racial Justice Committee. All of these committees wrote proposals in 2020 or early 2021, and the email sent out provides details of the actions the university has taken to implement these proposals. However, despite the lengthy proposals made by each committee, not a significant amount of progress has been made. These initiatives will take time to implement, but without a significant culture change within the student body, they will fail to address the injustices on campus.

To start off, the Mental Health Committee detailed a 31-page proposal, introducing short-term and long-term tasks to fix a variety of problems related to mental health. Part of the proposal includes adding a “Mental Health” section to Course Evaluations, giving an option for students to give feedback on how much stress a class caused them. Building off of that, a large portion of the proposal details three phases, one for adding that Mental Health section, another that “consists of University Counseling Services offering multiple scheduled talks for faculty members each semester” and the last phase that implements initiatives in “classes for professors who have consistently high levels of stress related to their classes.” Other parts of the proposal include better access to university resources and an increase in mental health education. While there has been some progress, such as creating a “What to Expect at your First Counseling Session” sheet for University and Health Counseling Services (UHCS) and adding more times for counseling services, including evenings and weekends, it doesn’t change the fact that there needs to be a culture change regarding students’ mental health. 

By the time this article is published, most students will be entering their midterm week. Midterm week is a severely stressful time for students and CWRU doesn’t help students much to alleviate that stress. Sure, there are proposals and initiatives to increase awareness and access to UHCS and perhaps erase the discomfort of using those resources; however, many students don’t feel as if they have the right to use those resources, contributing to them feeling overwhelmed and trapped during this time. Professors pile on assignments, and even if you ask for extensions for papers, it doesn’t change the fact that there is an exam every day, or even multiple exams a day, and there isn’t really anything you can do about it. The phases described in the proposal regarding stress levels for classes have the potential to implement a larger change; however, there was no mention of any of those specific actions taken in the progress report. The proposal details that there should be time between the completion of the first phase and the beginning of the second phase, as almost a trial period. While change takes time, it doesn’t seem like CWRU is giving enough transparency or taking substantive overall change toward remedying the culture of mental health and specifically, reducing the stress of students. 

Another incredibly important topic is sexual assault, which is addressed by the Sexual Misconduct Committee. The proposal detailed a number of areas of concern surrounding sexual misconduct, including the Title IX process and university policy, suggesting a campaign to explain policies and processes. Another area is Greek life and student organizations, where there were multiple ideas for action, including creating a student-run accountability system. There is even a section for campus culture, which proposed more campus-wide education programs and updating the educational modules. The progress detailed by the report includes several initiatives for more training and partnerships, which—to be fair—were in the action steps in the proposal; however, none of it seems to have made a significant impact on sexual assault culture on campus. 

Sure, there is an increase in sexual assault training for orientation leaders and more staff training within the Office of Equity, but does that really make a difference? For all we know, the same staff that has made students’ lives miserable during the Title IX process—and in other instances—still work there. Training doesn’t erase previous actions and injustices towards survivors. Students, especially women, still don’t feel safe on campus. Moreover, most of us don’t feel safe within organizations that should protect us; however, the progress when it comes to taking action against rapists and harassers seems nonexistent. Again, change takes time, but it doesn’t feel like there has been change beyond surface-level within the past couple of semesters, or at least progress towards that change.

This editorial isn’t going to compare all of the committees’ proposals versus progress, although the ones mentioned are indicative of the rest of the action committees. Most of the progress made isn’t concrete and, instead, is surface-level. It is clear that CWRU needs to increase transparency, meaning doing more than linking a website with summaries in an email to the student body. For a Better CWRU and its actions were clearly long overdue, and it is apparent that these initiatives were only taken due to the widespread attention drawn towards these issues. It is undeniably evident that there still needs to be a culture shift on campus so students feel safer and better supported within our university.