Staff Editorial: Refreshing progress for student health

Take notes, future Student Association leaders. Despite initial skepticism from top administrators, the lobbying campaign to move health and counseling offices to campus has gone about as well as advocates could hope for so far.

The effort got its biggest boost last week when University President Steven Knapp signed onto the major SA initiative last week, saying that he plans to consolidate SHS and UCC and move them both to an on-campus location.

“I think we can find a way to do it, we just needed the will to proceed with it,” Knapp said in an interview with The Hatchet Tuesday.

It’s concerning that Knapp did not share any specifics about the potential move with students, but his support is still good news. Students will benefit from easier access to these essential resources, like regular check ups, HIV testing and counseling services – all of which help ensure student success, but tend to go underused because the offices are on K Street instead of on campus.

A move on campus and into a bigger space helps nagging problems that GW can now tackle head on. The counseling center, undergoing a turnaround after years of administrative turmoil, has been strapped for space as more students sign up for appointments and GW hires new staff. But students also don’t take enough preventative measures to help their physical health, in part because the health center isn’t clearly visible as students travel from class to class.

This issue was a slam-dunk for Knapp to demonstrate he is in touch with students and has a grasp on their needs. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that this helps mitigate GW’s recent negative press.

And so far, the fight to relocate SHS and UCC has had refreshingly fast-paced progress. The SA identified an issue it cares about, and Knapp acknowledged his interest in alleviating the concerns. As administrators and students plan out how the move will happen, though, the SA needs to remain vocal advocates for this issue.

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Knapp’s support is progress, but it isn’t a clear-cut victory.

His announcement was just that: a statement of support without any real substance.

Questions still linger. Where will these departments will be housed? How much will the move cost? When will the consolidation actually occur?

Of course, students can’t achieve anything that changes GW’s footprint unless administrators sign on. Last year, we saw the SA’s rally for more student space fizzle when Provost Steven Lerman wrote an open letter acknowledging the need for student space while shutting down plans for a third floor Marvin Center renovation.

But now, the final responsibility to hammer out the details rests with the eight-person committee, which includes SA President Julia Susuni and is chaired by Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski.

Clearly, Knapp knows more than he is letting on. And that makes sense: The University president would not openly approve an SA initiative if he did not think there was a plausible path to achieve it, especially if it has big financial and space implications.

That said, Knapp has to level with the entire GW community. It isn’t acceptable to keep details on this important initiative shielded from the individuals who will be affected by it most. Even if plans for possible health center locations are still up in the air, he at least knows what GW’s options are. His letter to the community should have included these details.

Knapp affirmed that GW has the capacity to add these services, and said that academic buildings won’t be compromised. But what will?

On a crowded city campus like this one, consolidating health services and bringing them to campus means that something must be sacrificed. So students and faculty – beyond the individuals on the small committee – should play a role in determining what goes.

As the committee comes together, students need information. Konwerski must inform students and faculty about which locations are under consideration so that the community can weigh in.

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