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Athletic equipment theft, residence hall accessibility addressed at ‘Town Hall’

Adam Harrison

Asst. News Editor


Members of SGA held their biannual Town Hall to give students a chance to raise questions, comments, and concerns to administrators on Nov. 14.

At the forum, students raised concerns about theft, mental health, and accessibility.


In attendance was President Nancy Niemi; Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Eric Gustafson; Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kristen Porter-Utley; Vice President for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement Jeffrey Coleman; Assistant Vice President of Human Resources and Equal Opportunity Kim Dexter; Associate Dean of Students for Student Life Glenn Cochran; Assistant Dean for Student Engagement Rachel Lucking; Vice President of Student Success Lorretta Holloway; Director of Facilities Daniel Giard; Vice President for Student Affairs Meg Nowak Borrego; Chief of Staff,General Counsel and Secretary to the Board of Trustees Ann McDonald; Executive Vice President Dale Hamel; and Director of Dining Services Michael Newmark.


SGA Vice President Raffi Elkhoury brought up concerns about campus security, specifically theft of equipment in the weight room.


He said there is a large portion of the student population who have an interest in the weight room, and there should be funding put toward new and better equipment as well as new security measures such as cameras.


“We want to make sure that the new stuff isn’t getting broken or stolen … because that has been an issue in the past,” he said.


Elkhoury also suggested renting equipment as an alternative to directly purchasing it.


Hamel said there are a number of ways to potentially fund this idea, especially because a large portion of the athletics funding goes to sports.


“I do like the suggestion of possibly including it on the capital [projects] ranking exercise, so we’re going to have a discussion in executive staff about that,” he said.


SGA President Evelyn Campbell added the potential solution of putting individual tags on the weights so they can be easily located if they are taken.


She said they could be a better alternative to cameras because with cameras, you can see who took the equipment but not where they went, and that doesn’t solve the issue.


“Having tags on the weights would then allow you to know exactly where they are, which would be more helpful and more useful,” she said.


Hamel raised the concern that tagging equipment like a dumbbell would be too apparent, and someone could simply take the tag off before stealing it.


Senator Jeremy McDonald added purchasing new equipment for the weight room would be beneficial for the overall health and safety of the athletes as well.


He said having more accessible and functional equipment would enable athletes to compete at the highest level they can, in addition to preemptively avoiding injuries.


“Investing in the weight room is also investing in our athletes and injury prevention,” he said.


Senator Tony Sims brought up similar concerns about security on campus regarding the game room.


He said property from the Game Room such as various game boards have been stolen. Students are able to gain access to the room with their IDs until 2:00 a.m., and there should be more security to prevent theft.


“Due to lack of security, public opinion on that room is not where I would like to see it, and I think that a similar method to tagging could be employed with a lot of those pieces,” he said.


Dean of Student Engagement Lucking responded that there are already cameras in the game room, and they have been used when following up with damage-related issues, but they will look into the tagging idea.


She said they use card access to the room to figure out and track down who was inside the room during the time of damage, but many students aren’t swiping to enter, “so part of it is community responsibility for the space.”


In terms of managing the game room as a community space, she directed those with suggestions to follow up with the Center for Student Experience.


Elkhoury raised concerns about the availability of and access to mental health resources on campus, and if there was a way for the University to advertise counseling services and resources outside of the FSU counseling network.


Hiring graduate students at the counseling center “is a really good step to trying to meet that need, but I think there is still an unmet need in the student mental health and counseling department,” he said.


Associate Dean of Students Cochran responded that graduate interns in the counseling center are valuable, and they are interested in adding more. There is one person who holds remote early evening sessions, but that may not fit into every student's schedule, so they are also looking into more options.


He said there are flyers posted around campus that provide information on outside mental health resources, but they are looking for additional ways to advertise them as well.


“We have had some student leaders, we’ve had RAs, we’ve had S.E.A.L.s go through a full-day certification - [mental health first aid] - it would be great to have more people trained in that,” he said.


He added that the course was 8 hours, and they are looking into options to replace it with a 4-hour course in order to encourage more students to take it, and to have it fit more easily into students’ schedules.


The 4-hour course would not be as in depth, but it’s a tradeoff between fewer training hours and many more participants, he said.


Chief of Staff and General Counsel McDonald suggested having the Counseling Center reach out to coaches because many student athletes struggle with mental health. “I think a lot of coaches would be receptive to that - to know their players are doing OK.”


The scheduling for mental health sessions is difficult for student athletes, but coaches could play a major role in assisting them with that.


“I work at CASA as an ASPT tutor, and a lot of my students are athletes and their coaches help them sign up for these academic sessions to help them with that, so that’s a possibility as well.” Student Trustee Ryan Mikelis said.


Elkhoury asked if there could be a space for students to discuss the “current situation” in Israel and Palestine.


Vice President of DICE Coleman said the Center for Inclusive Excellence is available for students and faculty to participate in educational discussions.


“What we want is to make sure we are offering an educational discussion and we want it to be balanced. The University is not taking positions. And so we want the space to be somewhere where students can be supported, where community can be built, but also there can be education,” Coleman added.


Campbell brought up accessibility, and baby-changing stations being installed on all floors in the McCarthy Center. There is currently only one changing station on the second floor.


Tony Sims raised a concern about the lack of air-conditioning in many buildings, especially dorms. The heat in the early months of the semester can be very overwhelming and “to some who may have health conditions, potentially harmful.”


Also on the topic of residence hall conditions, Mikelis said access to elevators in all buildings is a necessary accommodation need that is not being met.


Sims expanded on that point, saying there are no elevators in Peirce and Horace Mann presumably due to their “historical significance.


“As much as I admire that, I believe that it is necessary to have some form of disability access to each of these buildings. As an individual with physically disabled parents, it has been frustrating to not be able to have my father come see me … because he can’t get up those stairs,” he said.


He said by not accommodating for physical disabilities, the University is limiting some students from living in certain dorms. In addition to dorms, there are areas on campus that do not have ramps nearby, such as “in between Peirce and Horace Mann and the Athletic Center.”


Hamel responded that they’ve looked into the air-conditioning issue before and it is largely a financial issue. The prospect of adding air-conditioning to the top two floors of one wing in Larned Hall would cost $2.8 million, and would be reflected in a significant rent increase.


“Unfortunately, during the shoulder seasons it can happen on both sides - there can be hot stretches where it does get warm, but it’s a tradeoff. During the summer, we accommodate the worst part of the heat by putting people in Linsley,” he said.


The same financial problem occurs for the elevator issue. The University tries to address it by providing accommodations to buildings that don’t have elevators, Hamel said.


Cochran said, “We’ve done very well in working with students' accommodations and needs,” but it becomes more difficult when providing for a visitor who can’t make it to those areas. It is also important to clearly describe the halls to incoming students so they are aware of what they are choosing.”


During closing remarks, Niemi said the forum was very well structured and did a wonderful job of reflecting everyone’s concerns. “I really love the way we communicate and we should be a model for a lot of places in the world, starting in our own backyard.


“I love it that we seem to be one of the few places in the state system that has this opportunity, and it’s an initiative I'm really proud of.”


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