This week’s edition of The Brandeis Hoot features two news articles about two different trusted campus allies, one leaving his duties on campus and the other returning. As most of the Brandeis community knows by now, Father Walter Cuenin will no longer serve as Brandeis’ Catholic chaplain due to health reasons, and Sheila McMahon will be resuming her duties as a sexual assault specialist following her absence last semester. This editorial board laments the loss of Father Cuenin, who was instrumental in establishing the current chaplaincy system on campus, as well as a long-beloved counselor and ally for LGBT students. From his eccentric socks to his serving as a judge in the Brandeis drag show, Cuenin’s dedication to the Brandeis community will not be forgotten, and this board wishes him good health in the future.
This board also happily welcomes McMahon back to Brandeis, as her work in reforming Brandeis’ responses to sexual violence on campus has been a key part of the university’s achievements in this area over the past year. As we have argued many times, sexual assault must be combated in order to truly uphold Brandeis’ values and its community, and student activists must be supported. McMahon is an essential part of this battle, and an ally to activists and survivors. Looking toward the future, this board believes that Brandeis should continue to invest in students through on-campus allies. The incoming rape crisis center for example, must be staffed by professionals as well as student volunteers.
Having individuals on campus whom students can trust and speak to confidentially can be essential for people who need someone to talk to but do not necessarily have access to professional counseling or something similar. Both Cuenin and McMahon have helped hundreds of students (especially since McMahon will hopefully be at Brandeis for years to come), and now that Cuenin is leaving campus, we must not forget what made him so beloved. The university should promote such figures as on-campus resources for students who need someone to speak with, even if they just need someone who will listen to their problems.
This is particularly urgent in light of student criticisms, including ones published by The Hoot, of Brandeis’ system of mental health services. This board recognizes that progress takes time but also believes that easily accessible individuals have and will continue to help. The Hoot board hopes that Brandeis will not forget the services of Father Cuenin in the future, and continue to provide students access to similar people. If Brandeis truly seeks to nurture its students and make them feel safe, these professionals must be found on campus and must be promoted to students by the administration. Brandeis students are autonomous individuals, but in the frenzy of homework, classes and social problems, some people may feel overwhelmed. Knowing that there is someone whose door is always open and is always willing to talk could be the difference that transforms someone’s experience at Brandeis from negative to positive, something all members of the community deserve.