“RIT Let Our Son Die”
It’s a simple enough sentence. The words are short, easy to say on their own. There’s nothing linguistically challenging about the way the letters are arranged; it’s not difficult to understand. Yet, this phrase carries so much more weight than the letters first let on.
Five words. Fifteen letters. A lifetime of pain.
That pain is felt by Ron Fairman of Indiana, Pennsylvania. It’s a small town, just over thirteen thousand people, that his son Tim once called home. Ron’s a soft-spoken man, prone to getting choked up while telling his story, but he’s making sure his voice is heard. Ron Fairman is currently standing at the main entrance to RIT’s campus holding two signs: “Fire Advisir [sic] Mina Pulcini” and “RIT Let Our Son Die.”
Ron’s story begins just over one year ago, and it starts with Tim. Tim was in his last semester as a Computer Science student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, looking to graduate in the fall. He was struggling with the stress, and Ron was worried. He asked Tim’s advisor, Mina Pulcini, to keep an eye on his son.
“[Pulcini] told us that she would email Tim, and bring him into her office often to make sure he was okay,” Ron said. It was likely the best thing he could’ve heard that day. Here was an RIT administrator who worked specifically with his son, offering to take him under her wing and take his mental health into her hands. It must’ve been a godsend. That is, if it had ever happened.
“I find out later, after we got his computer back, that she never emailed him. Never brought him into her office to make sure he was okay.” Despite her caring facade, Mina Pulcini never reached out to him. There was no invite to meet, no contact to make sure he was doing okay.
Tim Fairman was found dead in his apartment on November 16, 2017.
Mental Health On Campus
Mina Pulcini isn’t the problem here. While she may have been the point of contact, the duty of ensuring students’ continuing mental health falls to the Wellness Center. With the state of RIT’s counseling system, It’s possible that even an advisor referral wouldn’t have gotten Tim in the door.
It’s no secret that RIT’s counseling services are lacking. Students are often forced to wait weeks or months for even an initial intake appointment. After that, it can be the same wait again for a therapy appointment that will make any sort of progress. It’s a frustrating situation, and one that turns many people in need care off of the system entirely.
This months-long queue is actually an improvement over what Tim Fairman would’ve had to deal with. For the 2018-2019 school year, RIT actually sent some resources to the health center with the express intent of improving mental healthcare.
It didn’t work.
Wait times for an intake appointment at the Health Center are currently over a month long. Biweekly therapy sessions are an unattainable dream for RIT students, with most feeling lucky to get a meeting every three to four weeks. The university has approximately one counselor per thousand students -- an absurd and unsustainable ratio.
A Matter Of Priority
We know RIT’s counseling center is massively underfunded. We also know the Munson administration is currently pursuing a billion-dollar fundraising campaign. It doesn’t take an Accounting major to know that this money has to be going somewhere. So, where’s it going?
A look into the Transforming RIT campaign shows “Enhancing the Student Experience” as one only four goals. Surely, this means putting money towards mental healthcare, right? Building a collegiate environment where students are given the necessary resources to survive until they graduate?
Through the entire Transforming RIT campaign, there isn’t one mention of the Health Center, CaPS, or student mental or physical wellness. There are, in fact, only three points: experiential education, a makerspace, and performing arts.
Enhancing the Student Experience is set to receive $280 million from the overall billion dollar campaign. While it’s being directed toward necessary additions to the campus, one can’t help but feel ignored by the administration’s priorities. After all, what does a makerspace matter if students don’t live long enough to visit?
Time for Change
The administration can’t wait any longer. The student body deserves answers, respect, and proper mental healthcare. It’s shameful that this university, home to over fifteen thousand undergraduate students, is willing to let them languish and die in order to fulfill their own goals of attracting donors.
We need a massive shift in the way the Munson regime views RIT. This university is not a source of income, a quick way to make a buck and leave a legacy. It isn’t a facility to be rented out to the highest bidder. RIT is its people; it’s the students, faculty, and staff that truly give this campus its own unique feeling. Yet, with this community ready to live or die at the administration’s whim, they turn a blind eye.
So there’s the question, Munson. What matters more? Attracting new students, or keeping the ones you have alive?