Our Special Features section this week focuses on the identity-based mentor groups that function to ease the transition from high school into college for first-year students at the 5Cs. For many students these programs can be a source of much-needed support and a welcome addition to their life at college, whether through the introduction to new classmates through one of their school’s off-campus trips or the development of a relationship with a mentor. For others, however, as our two opinions in the Special Features section reveal, the current resources on campus are not always sufficient for creating a welcoming space in what can be an overwhelmingly strange and scary transition away from home.
Undoubtedly, each of the five colleges makes efforts toward creating that comfortable environment for every first-year student. There are myriad mentor groups open to students, and while they are not all-encompassing, they serve a valuable role. The 5Cs fail, however, to provide adequate support for students who have problems with drugs, including alcohol. As we saw in the previous Special Features section that focused on the policies of the campus’ substance-free openings, the schools have been unable to commit to a common alcohol policy for the entire campus, and were moreover unable to unify the substance-free opening timing despite efforts to do so. The schools are, however, attempting to fix these problems and have made recent progress, which is to be commended.
What this editorial board finds alarming is that for the approximately 5,000 undergraduate students there are only two drug and alcohol counselors, one at Pitzer College and the other at Pomona College. The schools have focused their energy on combating sexual assault and providing personal support for the transition into college, so the lack of support for students dealing with such a common problem is remarkable, especially for something that is fundamentally connected to these other issues the 5Cs have so greatly focused on.
First-year students are often under incredible pressure during their transitional first year at college—not only to fit in and make friends, but also to get decent grades, to discover their passions, to experience new things. Students often drink or use other substances for the first time at college, or at least more heavily than they had in high school, leading to potentially dangerous behavior. Additionally, study after study shows that there is a high correlation between drinking and sexual assault. We know all of these things, and the recent cancellations of both Pub and White Party show that the schools are taking sexual assault and drug use seriously. Canceling these parties, however, will not directly lead to healthier behavior, especially on the part of first-year students. For students struggling with drug problems, canceling parties will not have a meaningful impact; providing a dependable space on campus to deal with their problems might.
It is unacceptable not to provide a more substantial support system, including full-time drug and alcohol counselors, for students who desire a safe place to talk about substance issues on campus. Pomona and Pitzer at least have such counselors; it is time for the other three schools to follow suit. If we are serious about making our campuses a welcoming environment for every student, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or any other distinguishing feature, then we cannot forget the significance of substance use. Most students will probably never feel the need to meet a counselor to talk about substance use, but for those who do—especially at the three colleges without a counselor—the schools are failing their students.