Petition to renew the sense of community on-campus

A student-made petition receives over 100 signatures to expand community-building opportunities for on-campus residents to better their mental health

Kit Nowicki, News Writer

Kendrick Bynum (front), Eric Peterson, and Justin Cho (back right). Most residents in Ashton 5th West have strived to create a community even without in person contact. Eating lunch together, joining the floor discord, adding to the spotify playlist, and playing online or outside games are all ways that they have tried to connect despite social distancing rules. (Davery Bettger)

Many students are beginning to see a correlation between their social isolation and their declining mental health.

On Sunday, Oct. 11, second year Resident Advisor Pierce Papke started a petition to increase community-building potential in SPU dormitories and increase residents’ mental health.

“Due to COVID-19 guidelines, college students find themselves increasingly isolated and out of social proximity to each other. Isolation and lack of social proximity are researched causes of decreased mental health and increased suicide rates,” Papke said in his petition.

In less than four days, the petition received over 100 signatures. It argued that if students are allowed to eat with someone from their assigned small groups in Gwinn, they shouldn’t have to distance themselves from them in other social contexts. 

“It made a good point, that if we’re eating with them in a closed space then we’re probably already going to be sharing those germs,” said first year Lauryn Keith.

Keith signed the petition and said that the campus’s strong sense of community was a determining factor in her decision to attend SPU this year.

“College is supposed to be the time that you make your lifelong friends but, it’s difficult finding good community and finding good friends right now since the majority of the time I see people it’s over zoom,” said Keith. “It’s a lot more difficult to make a real human connection over Zoom.”

The petition argues that residents’ eating groups should be considered family units on campus; this argument is supported by King County’s Campus Reopening Guide which states that roommates and suitemates are to be treated as a household.

First year Kayra Inslee also signed Papke’s petition and said that while it’s easy enough to social distance with friends outdoors, Seattle’s cold and rainy autumn weather isn’t always going to permit outside hang-outs. Inslee thinks that SPU should provide more indoor opportunities for students to socialize while maintaining social distance.

“Opening up different floor common areas or library spaces where it’s easier for people to go in and eat and only have a certain number of seats available that are six feet apart would be a good step for SPU to make,” said Inslee.

In his petition, Papke said that SPU’s guidelines for social distancing need to work in a way that prioritizes the mental health of its students.

“Decreased mental health is a problem that needs to be addressed on campus, and actions need to be taken to ensure students have the necessary resources and social supports to thrive,” said Papke. “The problem of decreased mental health on campus needs to be addressed at its core.”

King County’s Campus Reopening Guide recommends that students be granted access to reduced cost and/ or free counseling and telemedicine consultations. However, counseling services are backlogged for two to three weeks according to the petition.

“I acknowledge that SPU is definitely trying their best, and I appreciate that they’re being strict on COVID-19 guidelines so that we can be here,” said Keith. “I feel safe here, but I also think that some of the rules are a little bit unreasonable.”

Inslee said that it’s important for students to know not just what the guidelines are, but why they are in place. She said that not everyone’s experience with COVID-19 exposure has been the same, so not everyone fully comprehends the severity of the virus.

“Some people don’t understand it enough, therefore, they don’t care enough so it’s kind of human nature to push back against rules that we don’t see the value in,” said Inslee.

Inslee and Keith agree with Papke’s claim, and both said it was good to see someone acknowledging these issues on campus, and bringing them to administration’s attention, without being disrespectful to the safety regulations already in place.

“We’re all struggling, and the better we can be about respecting people’s personal comfortability revolving around COVID-19 safety precautions, and the more we can stick together, the easier it’ll be now, and the sooner we’ll be able to get through it all,” said Inslee.

The Falcon reached out to the Office of Residence Life and received no comment.