An image of Kingston Hall in the evening.

OPINION: HMC Admin Must Do Better in Addressing Student Needs

by Bhavana Bheem

“Just stop caring and stop trying and it won’t be as hard.”

HMC senior

These are usually the words of a second-semester senior trying to coast through the last few weeks of classes. However, for far too many Harvey Mudd students, these words instead reflect a growing frustration and apathy toward the HMC administration.

From cancelling Fall Break to updating the Credit/No Credit policy, the administration’s decisions have had a significant and wide-ranging impact on student’s mental, financial, and academic well-being this past year. Moreover, with day-to-day campus life and the usual communities of support absent (i.e. dorm life, sports teams, clubs), students’ realities have become increasingly tied to the decisions of Deans, Trustees, and President’s Cabinet members. 

While the volatile and unprecedented situation of remote learning represented an opportunity to forge trust and understanding between students and administration, the current reality is students have become more distrustful, estranged, and indifferent about HMC administration’s commitment toward the voices and the needs of all students. 

In the past few weeks, I interviewed twenty HMC students about their sentiments around the administration. I talked to students who took gap years, international students, students on financial aid, athletes, and students from all academic years and majors. In these conversations, students reflected on the decisions made by HMC this past year, and gave me their thoughts and opinions. 

The general sentiment from the interviews is that students have not felt heard or prioritized by the HMC administration this past year. One student interviewed said:

“[The administration] is trying to make decisions that affect the grassroot levels of Mudd, but they do not have their ear to the ground.”

HMC senior

Last spring and summer, the HMC administration created student committees and hosted virtual town halls to engage with students. Many of the students interviewed tried to participate on these committees, in addition to attending town halls, but were largely met with disappointment and frustration. 

“I went to some town halls and did not like them at all. Questions were being paraphrased and grouped together in ways that I often never knew if my questions were answered or not, but they were marked as answered.”

HMC senior

The town halls were often unorganized and inadequate in answering students’ questions and addressing students’ needs. After a certain point, many students stopped attending.

Even when students felt as though they got a fair opportunity to voice their concerns or needs, the administration’s final decisions seemed not to prioritize students. The most visible example of this disregard was summer 2020, when the administration’s decision to push for reopening campus seemed to distract them from implementing resources that would have helped students navigate college during a pandemic, like non-school-affiliated housing accommodations for at-risk students and longer academic breaks during the semester. 

For example, one student explained that there seemed to be no initiative in helping medically at-risk students with safe housing options. The student said:

“They kind of put it more on the students who have medical conditions to have to explain things and try to make arrangements with the administration instead of the administration doing that proactively.”

HMC senior

Another even more egregious case of HMC administration’s negligence is from a student who was legally homeless during summer 2020, and reported that there was no proper initiative by the administration to help disadvantaged students with non-school affiliated housing. The student struggled with convincing the Office of Financial Aid to not blindly assume that all students would be living with their parents, an assumption that would reduce financial aid packages. Additionally, Harvey Mudd decided to stop forwarding mail from the student mailboxes to students’ addresses. Thus, because this student used Harvey Mudd as their permanent address, they faced issues with not receiving the proper legal documents for their medical insurance.

Furthermore, this student explicitly informed the HMC administration that by not announcing well in advance that the fall 2020 semester would be virtual, at-risk and unhoused students would be harmed the most. This advice seems to have been ignored, since the administration announced the closing of campus a week before students were supposed to arrive in August 2020. The student said:

“By not announcing that Mudd was closing, it harmed everyone, but harmed people who were extremely at-risk the most … they knew I existed, they can’t paint ignorance here.”

HMC unhoused student

In the interviews, I noticed a pattern of disconnect between the immediate needs of students and the administration’s decisions. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, many of the students interviewed sympathize with the administration and understand that the administration is balancing the needs of many different groups on campus. 

Students are/were willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt; however, the administration seems to be continuously letting students down. This ongoing disappointment has resulted in many students withdrawing from administration, rather than anger. The sentiment among students is clear: when it comes to the administration,

“There isn’t an understanding of what students might be thinking or feeling.”

HMC junior

With the unresponsiveness from administration, students have found other ways to get support financially, mentally, and academically. Students speak highly about groups like HMC Solidarity, 5C mutual aid funds, and faculty members who have been empathetic toward their needs. One student said:

“The individual actions by professors have stood out to me … that is something I value a lot more than anything the administration has done.”

HMC junior

With students feeling as though they can’t depend on nor trust the administration, they have turned to faculty, and most professors have been cooperative and flexible with students’ needs. Faculty members have taken initiative in helping their students navigate college in the midst of a pandemic. Students appreciate faculty being more understanding about extensions, exams, workload, and accomodations. Nonetheless, if a student is facing a hardship outside of school or needs any form of accommodation, they should never need to speak directly to a professor about the situation. That is the job of administration. 

This past year has fragmented the HMC community, with students, faculty, and staff located all around the world. Students have done their best to keep clubs active and engage with each other, but with Zoom fatigue being so real, it has been very difficult to connect with our peers. 

As HMC plans to bring students back to campus this coming fall, rebuilding the community is going to be difficult in itself; however, restoring trust between students and administration will most likely prove even harder. 

When asked about returning to campus, most students interviewed have either lost trust in administration, or cannot imagine how the relationship between the administration and the students can be rebuilt. One student admitted to being overwhelmingly disappointed with administration this past year. 

“I have realized, and I realize again, how let down I feel I was by the school … They revealed their true colors in terms of how much they care about students, and it’s hard to come back to that and not let it affect what I think about the school.”

HMC junior

Students’ current apathy towards the HMC administration is an alarming and worrisome situation. The administration can’t ignore this, or pretend that everything will go back to normal once campus doors open.

Furthermore, it is not the burden of already disassociated students to rebuild trust with the administration, nor is it the responsibility of this article to provide solutions. It is the administration’s obligation to find ways to better support students, because the current reality is that many students — especially the upperclassmen — are done trying to be heard. The apathy of many current students and graduating seniors promises consequences for the short term as well as the long term health of our campus and college. 

Editor’s Note: The Muddraker Editorial Board decided to preserve the anonymity of students quoted in this article out of respect for their privacy.

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