College: Student Mentors With Drug, Mental Health Issues Can Keep Their Jobs
In a meeting with administrators at Pomona College in April, student “sponsors” called upon the college to end its alleged practice of removing sponsors — second-year students who mentor and support incoming freshmen — from their posts on the basis of mental health problems or substance abuse. Asked for comment, the college’s residential life administrators explained that they do not fire sponsors on this basis.
The sponsor program is intended to help first-year students adjust to their first year of college, providing a “safe, welcoming” social group that also enables them to connect with students beyond their class year. On its website, the college describes the sponsor program as “a residential program through which all first-year [freshman] students are housed with approximately 15 other first-years led by two students called sponsors. More recently, sponsors have been sophomores … The main objective of the program is to assist in the transition to college by creating a safe, welcoming and sustainable living environment for all first-years as well as increasing interactions with older students.”
During the forum with administrators, current sponsors claimed that the residential life office had terminated sponsors for abusing drugs or having a mental illness. Doing so, they said, demonstrates a lack of inclusion for students with mental health and substance abuse problems, whose experiences are valuable for incoming freshmen:
“Don’t cut sponsor for substance or mental health reasons – just, seriously, stop … We should value these individuals for their experiences,” they said, according to the transcript.
When the Independent inquired about this policy with college administrators, the Office of Housing and Residence Life responded to “confirm that we do not remove Sponsors based on mental health and/or substance abuse issues.” The office did not say whether this policy marks a change from previous practice or has been the college’s approach in the past.
However, some parents are concerned about the college’s practice. In an email, a parent of a Pomona freshman told the Independent that sponsors should not have a history of mental illness or addiction:
“Given that the primary task of a sponsor is to oversee and care for freshman, full competence should be prioritized,” the parent said. “While Pomona should uphold the value of inclusion, it is not fair or right to burden freshman with a mentally challenged or ex/current drug using individual. All sponsors should be focused on the responsibility of helping freshman. They should be role models which is difficult when mental illness or addiction is involved.”
At the same forum, current sponsors urged administrators to phase out the standard cover letter/resume application to be a sponsor in favor of a student-run selection process, marginalizing the role of college officials in choosing the next year’s crop of student mentors.
They also demanded that the college release the whereabouts of “at-risk” students in each sponsor group to sponsors via an “automated email system,” as well as to “provide some form of compensation, not necessarily monetary, to Sponsor[s] for their work.”
At present, the sponsor role is an unpaid position that is by application only. At the forum, students and administrators alike noted that high student interest in the position is typical.