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Editorial: After response to Women’s Center change, Northwestern should improve communication of major decisions

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During this year’s peer adviser training, Northwestern PAs were given an hour-long lecture on the resources available to students looking for mental health counseling. One of the resources PAs were taught to direct new students to was the Women’s Center.

Two weeks later, the University announced plans to eliminate counseling at the Women’s Center.

Unknown to many PAs, discussions about removing the center’s counseling services began last year. The lack of prior communication with the student body about the change is concerning and seems to reflect a broader trend in how the University approaches transparency while making major decisions.

Once again, NU announced plans to reorganize a space or service vital to many students on campus. Once again, the communication of the decision and changes left much to be desired.

The University previously hosted listening sessions in the wake of, rather than before, controversial decisions and announcements. After the administration proposed plans to move Campus Inclusion and Community offices to the Black House and Multicultural Center last fall, uproar from students and alumni prompted a series of listening sessions, which eventually concluded with the cancellation of the proposed changes.

There is certainly precedent for administrators collecting student feedback about potential changes. We applaud the University for holding town-hall meetings this quarter in considering adjustments to its on-campus housing system. But this sort of transparency should be a regular part of administrative decision-making that affects students.

The possibility of ending counseling at the Women’s Center should have been more widely communicated months before the decision was made. The process of evaluating the Women’s Center involved focus groups and conversations with students and staff. In fairness, those sessions were lightly attended, but that should not give administrators an excuse to give up on getting student feedback. On the contrary, the burden to gather sufficient student response falls on administrators, not students who weren’t aware of what was at stake.

Administrative efficiency should not take priority over accessibility to mental health support. With its positive reputation and 52-session structure, the Women’s Center’s counseling services functioned as an accessible point of mental health care on campus. Consolidating services may sound sensible, but CAPS is not a safe space for many NU students, whereas the Women’s Center is.

The 2016 Black Student Experience report included recommendations about increasing inclusivity at NU, including a call to listen to black students “not just in times of crisis.” Part of creating a more inclusive environment on our campus is greater transparency in decision making.

Administrators would do well to ramp up engagement with the student body during the process of making decisions, if not for permission than for recognition that students are a vital part of making changes on campus.

This piece represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of The Daily Northwestern. The Editorial Board has an “Editorial Corps” responsible for selecting and producing editorials with feedback from the rest of the board. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members or Editorial Board members of The Daily Northwestern.

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