Updated: Oct 28, 2021
By: Kristen Beachy
Prior to the pandemic, university students readily had disproportionate rates of mental health issues. These were further bolstered in light of a season marked by solitude and stressors of racial injustice. Adequate counseling services are needed for college students to maintain their mental health, with the emotional wellbeing of students vital to the growth and achievement of the OWU community. With its recent addition of a new counselor, Ohio Wesleyan takes a promising first step, but students indicate that more work needs to be done.
Specifically in an era of social distancing, students raise the importance of personal interaction to gain awareness of issues surrounding mental health on campus. “It is important that the counselor and student make a one-on-one connection,” Nisha Achieng said. The Junior added:
“Surveys are impersonal, not connected to the students at all. I feel like if counselors were to sit down with students and ask how they are feeling, even on Zoom, more awareness would be drawn to these issues. If I fill out a survey, nine times out of ten I will put down answers that make me look good.”
Ohio Wesleyan recently added a Black counselor in an effort to offer more diversity among its Counseling Services staff. Alice Mills Mai is a licensed professional clinical counselor with a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the City College of New York. Mills Mai is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Counselor Education and Supervision. Prior to joining OWU, she completed work in areas such as domestic violence, QTBIPOC, trauma, and grassroots organizing.
One student, who would like to remain anonymous, said that “while it is great to see representation, I am personally disgusted with how OWU has been tokenizing their black counselor.” Tokenism is a word used to describe the act of making a performative effort to seem inclusive, which is often done in organizations by hiring one historically marginalized person to communicate diversity in the workforce.
While the Senior student is pleased that the school is hiring more staff hailing from diverse backgrounds, they feel the other counselors are pushing all minoritized students toward the one counselor of color. This tacitly puts the responsibility for the wellbeing of BIPOC students on the new counselor and negates the others from the responsibility to continue learning about racial identities.
“It seems like OWU staff is deciding that racial issues are no longer a concern for them personally,” the student said. “I find it appealing that in order for BIPOC people to feel comfortable talking to counselors at school, there first has to be a Black counselor. The white counselors need to do better and work on making sure everyone feels safe,” the student added.
However, students also indicated that the identification can facilitate in feeling more comfortable with a counselor. “Now BIPOC students will have someone who can relate to their experiences. In my experience with OWU’s counseling services, having a white counselor isn’t horrible but they just can’t relate to some of the things you are talking about,” Nisha Achieng ‘22 said. The responses of the students indicate a pressing urgency for Ohio Wesleyan’s Counseling Services to take more action in meeting the needs of BIPOC students, ensuring adequate training of staff and student access to resources to cope with mental health issues linked to the racial bias that lingers in our society.
Overall, students had mixed responses on the helpfulness of the services offered for students through the school. Shay Nguyen ‘22 said, “When I have reached out for help I have been able to receive it, but it wasn't specifically through the Counseling Services.”
Reflecting on when she sought assistance, classmate Nisha found the guidance and tools offered beneficial. “That’s how I actually found out I have a mental illness. Being able to get a proper diagnosis and taking the necessary steps from there has helped me a lot,” Nisha explained.
Other students indicate they felt discarded by the staff at times they were in need of help. “They didn’t care about what I had gone through, they just wanted to make sure the school didn’t get in trouble,” the anonymous student said. They added, “while I was told I could get counseling, I was then told it would take a month since all appointments were booked. Even when crying hysterically, they told me just to wait for a free slot to open up.”
Nisha Achieng also shared that the availability of OWU’s counseling services could improve.
“I feel like they need more availability, especially for students who feel like they need more frequent sessions. They should be able to accommodate that instead of holding students off for two weeks, because you never know how bad someone could be doing,” Nisha said. “Overall though, the fact that it's available is great.”
Shay Nguyen feels that the school has been supportive of the mental and physical wellbeing of its student body. “I believe that OWU specifically has been trying. The professors understand if you're honest with them. The only support that we could work on, is to be kind to each other. All of us,” she said.