With grassroots sown on the quad at their monumental protest last year, Occupy the Quad are in the process of enacting change on campus with initiatives addressing sexual assault, mental health, diversity and safety on campus.
Their initial protest, fueled by a crowd of nearly 200 students holding signs saying ‘rocky is rolling in his grave’ and ‘protect victims not abusers,’ is planning to hit the books this semester.
The Occupy the Quad leaders sent this statement to address the break in progress since their initial protest last spring.
“This semester has been especially challenging for us. Several personal issues arose in the first half of the semester that sadly put a temporary halt on our work. We are very sorry for not being more present this semester. We plan to move forward with solid plans and goals for the remainder of this semester into the next and on. We are so excited to use what we’ve learned as students and as young adults to better the UNCA community with realistic and feasible student led initiatives. And above everything we are striving to make UNCA an institution where our well being as students is the top priority and our rights are protected,” Occupy the Quad leaders said.
Occupy the Quad said they will be forming subgroups of students passionate about a particular issue, task them with getting feedback from the student body and following through with the initiatives they set, said Mariana Kuehn, a chief in Occupy.
Occupy the Quad, according to Kuehn, is meant to be a supplement to groups like student government or Black Student Union and their goal is to help focus and assess the issues of students.
“Bypass all the nitty gritty, bypass having to make the meetings, let us do some of that for you and be there for you to be your advocate for these issues,” Kuehn said.
Many of their initiatives are centered around both healing the relationship and forming a relationship between the student body and administration.
“Over the years there has been a gap between administration and students. Administration doesn’t know how to deal with students, students fear administration, when we all kind of have the same goals. And through our time working in Occupy the Quad and with Bill Haggard and with other administrators and we found that we all want the same goals, but it’s gonna take the work of all of us to try and accomplish that,” Alex Mbuthia, another chief of Occupy the Quad, said.
The strained relationship between students and administration paired with lack of resources seems to put a block on some of the initiatives Occupy the Quad wants to execute.
Kaitlyn Johnson, an officer for the health and counseling section of Occupy the Quad, mentioned the lack of resources in Title IX possibly spreading Jill Moffitt, the Title IX administrator, too thin to both do her job and build a relationship with students.
“Although there’s only one person working at Title IX as of right now, which is terrible, it’s still important because especially if you want to care about the students, you want to get a good relationship with the students,” Johnson said.
Both Moffitt and Jay Cutspec, the director and health and counseling, mentioned having or no longer having the resources that Occupy the Quad suggested that simply didn’t get used when they were offered.
To try and address the wait students have for counseling services, Occupy the Quad recommended having specialized group counseling catered towards things like depression and anxiety specifically.
It is important to note that the school does have a 24/7 crisis counselor and two time slots set aside everyday for emergency purposes.
“The demand is very high. So there’s a standard in our sort of industry that says you should have one counselor for every 1,500 students. It’s been around forever. We actually have one counselor for every 750 students. So we already, from that perspective, we have a pretty decent staff, but because of the demand it’s, in particular, it’s even more this semester than it was last semester,” Cutspec said.
Because of this, they’ve had to put limits on how many people they take a week for individual counseling, he said, which they’ve never said to do before.
Cutspec said that when they have started specialized groups for things like bipolar, ADHD and depression to try and address the high volume of students needing one-on-one counseling, the attendance would dwindle and it didn’t lessen the load because the students barely came. When students did come, he said, that they were often students already using health and counseling services.
Cutspec said that being on a small campus makes people more hesitant for group sessions because more people know each other.
“Coming to group at a small campus could be a pretty intimidating thing. I was gonna mention that critical mass is a real challenge for us as a smaller institution and a lot of different types of student activities or we just don’t have enough students,” he said.
There used to be an event on campus for sexual assault awareness that was headed by students.
“Take Back the Night is about getting empowered and finding strength and nobody wants to Title IX coordinator there and nobody wants to share if they feel like the Title IX coordinator is going to have to do something about it,” Moffitt said.
Moffitt said that Occupy the Quad helping to make resources more known would be helpful to ensuring programs can continue that cannot be headed by administration like Take Back the Night.
“So for me, Occupy the Quad, in addition to some of their ideas for how we might better serve students, I do think there is an effective route for them in helping really raise awareness generally about what these issues are about and what’s reasonable,” she said.
Occupy the Quad has a long-term goal of providing a 24 hour on-campus hotline for students who had been recently sexually assaulted or were experiencing mental health issues that need immediate attention.
“Some people may not want to report to the police, but there’s also a 24 hour housing professionals on call for our on campus students. So there’s already at least two 24 hour numbers,” Bill Haggard, the vice chancellor for student affairs said.
There are 24-hour resources on campus that aren’t campus police if a student does not feel comfortable. There is always an Area Director, who runs two residence halls on campus, that is on call for emergency situations.
In the evenings and early morning there is also a Resident Assistant on call for residents who may need them.
On top of having these resources available, Kuehn said that students need to know they have it by having the crisis hotline number on a refrigerator magnet in every residence hall.
“We want to see them all over campus because we want it to be so prominent for our students to know that there is somewhere they can go and get help not in a month, but right when they need it,” Kuehn said.
Although in a primitive stage of how these initiatives will be executed, students are optimistic for the future Occupy the Quad has on campus and administration is excited to work with them.
“I feel like our goals are attainable. I think the fact that they’re trying is a good thing. People can complain and stuff, but they don’t set goals. They can’t retain them,” Trans Student Union leader Yen Doan said.
Already strategizing the initiatives set forward, students and communities members like OurVoice, a sexual assault hotline that provides service to campus, discussed how they could get involved with Occupy the Quad leaders and eventually the room fell silent until the next meeting.
“We’re a union for students to make sure that their rights are being protected and that everything that happens at this school is fair, equal and effective and not going to be harming the students in any way,” Kuehn said.