The Thelomathesian Society (also known as “Thelmo”) is donating $1 million to create an endowed fund aimed at increasing the availability of student mental health care on the St. Lawrence University campus.
It is an unprecedented gift, forged in part by two years of pandemic hardship. Due to two years of underspending on student activities, the Thelmo executive committee with the strong support of the larger membership decided to reinvest that surplus as a restricted gift for student mental health care.
“Across the country, people our age are in crisis. This is a time of life when we’re supposed to be together. We learn who we are because we bounce off one another. Being together defines this time of life,” said Charles Shaw ’22 and Thelmo’s vice president of Senate Affairs. “The pandemic and its restrictions caused a lot of us to feel disconnected. Painfully so. The idea for this gift came from us talking about what we could do to help the people we care about—to help students.”
Remote learning, social distancing, and other public-health precautions also had an unforeseen effect on Thelmo’s finances.
“Every year,” Shaw says, “St. Lawrence students pay an activity fee. These fees go into a fund that Thelmo manages and we make sure the money is distributed responsibly to students and student groups. Throughout the pandemic, Thelmo sent out the money the way we always have, but student groups weren’t able to spend it. The student activities they supported couldn’t take place. So, in accordance with University practices, that money came back to Thelmo.”
In early 2022, the group’s treasurer ran the numbers—a few times—but there was no doubt about the final amount of the surplus: a stunning $1 million.
Thelmo President Alexander Reyes ’23 says the right thing to do quickly became clear.
“As a group,” he says, “we represent St. Lawrence students. So, we asked each other, ‘What’s the best thing to do with this money?’ It was Charlie who first proposed using the money to somehow increase mental health counseling on campus. Every single one of us knows people who get counseling—and everyone gets a lot out of it. But the pandemic caused a mental health crisis and it just overwhelmed everybody.”
The Diana B. Torrey ’82 Student Health Center offers a clinical environment where students can get therapy in a professional, non-judgmental setting on campus. Each week, St. Lawrence counselors see more than 400 students. The number of students using these services continues to grow each year, consistent with national trends.
Student wellbeing has been a top priority for St. Lawrence for a long time, starting well before the pandemic. This gift enables St. Lawrence to permanently keep the staff at five full-time mental health counselors. It helps complement the ongoing University efforts to further enhance the support available to students. The University established peer counseling, which allows students to talk with other students about a wide range of issues affecting them. The Office of Wellness Education was created, which offers students a range of options to promote physical and mental health. St. Lawrence has also established a working relationship with the Jed Foundation, a non-profit that bolsters the social connections which foster greater emotional health and resilience for college students.
During the past year, the University has also added a part-time psychiatrist and a tele mental health resource available to students. Student life has also increased mental health programming with group sessions and outreach into residential facilities to reach more students.
President Kathryn A. Morris calls the gift from Thelmo a clear demonstration of Laurentian kindness and determination. “I am grateful for the leadership that our student government has demonstrated, by contributing in this way, Thelmo is expressing the intentional compassion that is a distinct hallmark of the University’s character. These students are caring about—and for—students. By reaching out with this generous gift, leaders of the St. Lawrence student body are seeking—and they are creating—connections that will serve future generations of Laurentian students.”
The social connection that President Morris talks about is also top of mind for Thelmo President Alexander Reyes.
“When students are in crisis and facing issues,” he says, “the main problem is they’re feeling alone. This gift to the University aims to increase students’ access to professionals who will help them fight back against feeling isolated. Yes, it’s about student wellbeing, certainly, but it’s also about connection. And that’s a bedrock of this community. That’s Laurentian. So, this significant gift reinforces our shared value of connecting with each other. It’s important that we express that and it’s just as important that everyone on this campus can see it happening in real-time.”
Charles Shaw, Thelmo’s vice president of Senate Affairs adds, “This donation creates an opportunity to start rebuilding the connections that make St. Lawrence what it is. This is the moment where students—in a meaningful way—say that our mental health is important. Together, as the St. Lawrence student body, we are investing in it and we are leading by example. This is how we build the connected future that we want.”