Student forum attempts to open dialogue


Michael Guido, News Editor

Gannon University held a student open forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Yehl Ballrooom.

The event, hosted by President Keith Taylor Ph.D., and members of the president’s leadership team, comes as the university begins to grapple with concerns over mental health care on campus.

Doug Oathout, chief of staff and director of Marketing & Communications for Gannon, said that it was time to have this event.

“We have been meeting with students in small-group settings regarding mental health care on campus,” Oathout said. “The SGA and administration believe this is a moment to reflect on where we are and what we could be doing next.”

The event began with Student Government Association President Beth Kropf giving opening remarks and a brief prayer before introducing Taylor.

In an extended opening, Taylor started by acknowledging that the question of who the university wanted to be had been at the forefront of recent discussions and that he felt the event would be an opportunity to understand that.

Taylor said that positive efforts have occurred both in the student body and amongst the university’s administration as to how to tackle mental health and mental well-being, but said that further progress was needed.

While speaking, Taylor said that mental health has been an ongoing issue at Gannon and that efforts had been made, such as the mental health task force in 2019, to address the problem.

Taylor said that the effects of COVID-19 pandemic had been a hindrance to the student body and led to increased mental health issues.

“Pressures of what’s happening today in our society has completely intensified the challenge of mental health and the struggles around mental well-being,” Taylor said.

Taylor said that university had enforced a policy of in-person learning and being on campus because of a need to stay in community for the sake of community well-being.

The first question dealt with how the university was addressing the problem of LGBTQ students being at high-risk for suicide.

Taylor said that by attacking it from a community standpoint as opposed to a medical one would make solving the problem easier.

“Let’s deal with diversity, let’s deal with inclusion,” Taylor said.

Taylor said that the university was acting to be more inclusive for students who use different pronouns and have varying gender identities.

The conversation shifted to diversifying messaging, particularly to men on campus; Taylor posed the question to several students physically present who responded with ideas to include Residence Life with fraternity & sorority life and sports teams to open dialogue and to see fellow students be engaged with more students.

Taylor said these were ideas he was in favor of.

Zoom questions were a factor in the meeting, with students watching virtually proposing ideas such as providing magnets to students on move-in day that lists hours for counseling and other services and growing peer mentoring services in the student body, with both ideas being favored by Taylor.

Other issues discussed were student-faculty mental health discussions, mental health response failures and the idea of creating a mental health task force made up of students who had previously had mental health issues.

A tense moment arose over the idea that students could not have the organizational responsibility of managing a large initiative dealing with mental health, which lead to Taylor clarifying his beliefs on the matter.

“I am a huge advocate for student voices,” Taylor said. “But it’s a matter of where and how.”

Taylor said students should feel open to speak their minds about pertinent information.

“If you have something you want to say, just tell us,” Taylor said.

As the event drew to a close, Taylor was asked about an investigation into allegations of someone employed at the university using hurtful language directed toward a student who passed away.

Taylor said that the U.S. Army had conducted its own review of the matter and concluded he was in good standing with the Army.

“The university has done our own review, and he is in good standing with the university and he is a good man,” Taylor said.

Taylor said that like Metz workers, U.S. Army employees are not employees of Gannon and that Gannon does not control their employment.

Taylor said that much still needs to be done, but that Gannon was full of potential.

Kropf concluded by thanking the students that attended and offering words of encouragement.

“You are cared for here,” Kropf said.

Immediate student reaction was positive to the forum.

Matthew Schlessman junior chemistry & pre-dental major and president-elect of SGA, said that the event was a positive moment for the Gannon community.

“Overall, I thought Dr. Taylor and the PLT handled it very well,” Schlessman said. “A lot of students brought up mental health and how the university could do better, such as how to properly handle certain situations and retraining RA’s and RD’s to be better equipped for mental health situations.”

Schlessman said that even though it was a good event, a more diverse audience would’ve been a bonus.

“I think this was a positive open forum,” Schlessman said. “It was nice that students came out; however, something that was lacking was new faces. It is the same familiar faces. I’d like to see regular students come to more of these events.”

When asked if another forum should be held again, Schlessman said he was in favor.

“Yes, we should definitely have another event soon,” Schlessman said. “If we keep having these conversations, this will allow the administration to get more information and allow for a more opinionated student body.”

Andrew Caswell, Ph.D., said that he felt Taylor did a good job answering the questions posed to him.

“He explained the logic behind the decisions that the leadership team made and discussed the insittutonal history behind it,” Caswell said.

However, Caswell said he could not determine how effective of an event it had been for the student body.

“I don’t know if I can say that it was a productive meeting because I’m not a student,” Caswell said. “The students who raised issues will have to assess how those issues are addressed to determine how productive the meeting was.”

Caswell said he believes that more evens like this should be held and that students should use the opportunity to tell Taylor what is on their minds.

“I think that more forums are better than less forums,” Caswell said. “As an employee, I never pass on the opportunity to ask [Taylor] a question; my concerns won’t be part of the conversation if I don’t express them.”

Students are encouraged to give feedback on their thoughts pertaining to the event and other campus-related affairs.


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