As students spend more time isolated in dorm rooms as a result of limited work spaces, remote classes and restricted gatherings, parents have expressed concern about the well-being of their children.
In response to these issues, a group of Boston University parents submitted an email Sept. 24 to senior leadership — including President Robert Brown, Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore and Student Health Services Director Judy Platt, among others — requesting more support for students’ mental health and emotional well-being.
Some of the concerns outlined in the letter include: Resident Assistants’ capacity to provide emotional support to students, lack of mail in quarantine and isolation housing, inadequate support from BU’s Behavioral Services department and lack of daily nurse check-ins for students in isolation or quarantine housing.
These concerns, according to the email, arose because many parents felt that their children were not getting enough mental health support on campus in the wake of the changes caused by the pandemic.
Alessandra Kellermann, who founded the BU Parents United group during the pandemic and a parent of a senior at BU, said the parents would like to see more in-person activities organized for smaller groups for students to meet one another.
“It’s so important, especially as you’re finding your way in a new school and you’ve never been there before, to have some human contact,” Kellermann said. “That’s why people chose in-person versus [Learn from Anywhere] and these kids decided to take a chance.”
Kellermann added that BU Parents United felt it had to take a stand sooner rather than later.
“We’re already having students calling, crying to their parents,” Kellermann said. “I’m worried that we’re going to have something worse happen because we all saw the flags, and nobody paid any attention.”
Retraining the RAs is on the list of concerns because they are closest to the majority of the students living on campus, Kellermann said. They are asking for physically distanced activities facilitated by the RAs, especially for freshmen and transfer students, according to the letter.
Beth Haft, a BU Parents United group member, said fewer people in residence halls this year means students could have more socially distanced activities.
“Certainly there’s a room big enough where an RA can hold a meeting or an activity with 25 students in a safe manner and do something fun for those kids,” Haft said. “You don’t have to sit next to each other and you don’t have to breathe on each other and you don’t have to touch each other to have a silly bingo game.”
Haft said she believes the RA plays an important role in initiating conversations and helping new students open up to one another.
“[Students are] not going to start the conversation,” Haft said. “Somebody needs to start it for them.”
Another concern raised by the group was the treatment of students in quarantine or isolation housing.
One parent who asked to remain anonymous said their child reported differences in quality between the quarantine housing at 575 Commonwealth Avenue and 1047 Commonwealth, an outside housing facility that BU contracted for this year.
Videos from inside 1047 Commonwealth showcased “beautiful modern apartments” with luxurious amenities, the parent said, and some students had expected this to be their quarantine space.
“If they had to go to quarantine, they felt like that was manageable, that they could be 14 days in that space,” said the parent whose child was previously in quarantine housing. “Instead, they were put into a dark room in HoJo.”
Students in quarantine and isolation housing also do not receive mail, so when this parent tried to send a care package, the student could not receive it until after their quarantine ended.
The group wrote in the email that they acknowledge some parents are satisfied with the measures BU has taken to control the virus, such as social distancing guidelines and frequent testing. However, BU Parents United believes efforts can now be directed toward emotional health.
Katherine Cornetta, assistant to the DOS, wrote in an email that the University evaluates feedback from parents and students to provide the “best possible” programming and connections to support students this semester.
“Multiple offices are currently looking at recent input, including this letter, to implement further outreach,” Cornetta said.
BU spokesperson Colin Riley declined to comment, and Residence Life did not respond to inquiries about the role of RAs this semester.
The BU Parents United Facebook group consists of nearly 800 BU parents as of Tuesday night.
One parent of an upperclassman — who asked to remain anonymous — wrote in an email that they were more confident in their child’s ability to adapt to changes on campus because they had already been at the school in its normal state. They wrote that they can understand it may be more difficult for first-year students.
“Freshman year is hard enough without a pandemic, but in these times it’s extremely difficult,” the parent wrote. “Meeting people and forming real, lasting friendships is nearly impossible in a big city with no opportunities for socializing and meeting people.”
CORRECTION: Alessandra Kellermann’s name was previously misspelled as “Kellerman” in some instances. It is “Kellermann.” The article has been updated to reflect this change.
The main message for students to hear, and trust me many adults my age still need to understand this, is that taking care of ourselves includes our MENTAL FITNESS too not just our physical fitness especially during a pandemic.
When we think of it as mental fitness instead of mental illness or some silly stigma, we realize how important it is to learn to keep our brain and feelings in balance and healthy too. We can use meditation, yoga, mindfulness, socializing with new friends,journaling, visiting new places, therapeutic time with animals,music, art, all to stimulate those positive feelings and relieve anxiety and feelings of isolation and depression.
Keeping yourself mentally fit is what is needed above everything else to accomplish all your goals and dreams. And it’s okay when you are not feeling great, just as long as you have the tools and the supports to feel better. A good cry never hurts as it releases those sad hormones and that’s why we always feel better afterwards.
All we want is for BU to share these messages, teach the tools students need to stay mentally fit not just physically fit and to improve the environment with so many feeling isolated and confined in right now. BU can shine here if it chooses to and help students know you are not alone. Although Dean Elmore stated today he wants students individually reaching out, despite our concerns that BU needs to reach out more and hear our terriers, we will keep advocating until changes happen.
It’s a win-win for everyone when BU starts to change things for the better and this will result in less students fleeing campus to return home for LFA.
Finally, if you are a student hurting and feeling isolated or stressed, there is a 24/7 manned national hotline with licensed counselors to help you during this pandemic . They also translate in almost every language.
The number is 1-800-985-5980
Secondly the National Suicide Hotline in case you ever feel life has become too much to handle or you are worried about you or any student hurting themselves is 1-800-273-8255.