ASPC Fills New Disability and Mental Health Advocacy Position

Last week, the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) created a new position for the 2016-2017 school year: Director of Disability and Mental Health Advocacy. Samantha Borje PO ’19, who previously published an op-ed in TSL about her experience with mental health at Pomona, has been selected for the position and will be responsible for representing students with disabilities and mental health issues.

The creation of this position is part of a larger ASPC initiative to shift responsibilities and titles in order to better represent the needs of students, according to Christina Tong PO ’17, incoming ASPC president.

“A key motivator of this restructuring is the realization that many key advocacy areas, such as financial aid, admissions, disability, and mental health, do not receive adequate attention under our current Senate structure,” Tong said.

Tong added that students have voiced a clear need for the administration to be held accountable for any actions they take related to student mental health issues and that the new position will help ASPC address this topic next year.

“This position has the capability to work with the administration to hold it accountable for its mishandling of situations and to ensure compassionate responses to students with disabilities or mental health issues,” Tong said. 

This position is novel in its function; it is one specifically designed to address the way the Pomona administration handles mental health cases.

“Pomona is facing a huge crisis and things need to change,” said Aldair Arriola-Gomez PO ‘17, ASPC's vice president of campus events.

She “will be responsible for representing the interests of students with disabilities or mental health issues” to the dean of students, Monsour Counseling Center, and Student Health Services and for “advocating for policy and procedural changes in these areas and institutions,” Tong said.

Tong also said that the new position's responsibilities will likely change due to ASPC’s restructuring.

“We expect that the exact job description and responsibilities might change over the course of this year as we gain a better understanding of how to navigate the relevant administrative structures and push for policy change,” she said.

In addition to initiating conversations and policy changes to address issues surrounding the mental health culture at Pomona, Borje is excited to voice the interests of students with disabilities or mental health issues.

“Disabled and neurodivergent/mentally ill students are one of the many underrepresented groups on campus–but because of the nature of our identity, it’s most difficult for us to organize and mobilize ourselves,” she said.

The hope is that the position will be helpful in targeting and resolving specific and relevant problems, such as giving those with mental health issues more support and resources.  

It “creates more pressure for the administration to act and to improve the current issues facing mental health and disability,” Arriola-Gomez said.

The position's other responsibilities include being a liaison to the Student Disabilities Resource Center and sitting on the 5C Mental Health Working Group.

“It will be important that Borje be a self-starter,” Arriola-Gomez said. “Since this is a new position, the student will have to be a trailblazer and be able to take initiative. Navigating through some spaces on campus can be challenging. Therefore, I think this position will continue to develop as the year goes on,” Arriola-Gomez said.

Borje wants to spread awareness of the logistical processes related to mental health issues, such as requesting accommodations, a psychiatrist requesting referral, or a leave of absence.

“Students need to know from the beginning that these resources are available, and needed by so many,” she said.

Taking on the aforementioned tasks may be difficult, but ASPC is ready to help lead Borje through a successful year.

“We understand that the position is new and will have a lot of challenges, therefore the person who is selected can count an ASPC as a sounding board and as a support group,” Arriola-Gomez said.

In her new position, Borje will report to Kit Lee PO ’17, ASPC's commissioner of community relations.

“I support the role 100 percent, and I'm excited to work with and support them,” Lee wrote in an email to TSL.

Though it is clear Borje will have plenty to take on, she said that she is ready to accept the challenge.

“We need to be in an environment that fosters communal care,” she said. “We don’t have that at Pomona right now, and I want to help in making it so that we do.”

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