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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Counseling Center not inclusive of student-led resources, students say

By Roisin Cowan-Kuist

Western’s National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter has severed ties with Western’s Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee after releasing a public statement to their Facebook page on Feb. 24.

Lack of communication and trust between student leadership and Counseling Center staff were among reasons for the separation, Sarah Cederberg, president of NAMI on Campus WWU, said.

NAMI On Campus is a national organization and Western student-led club aimed at providing resources and mental health care for students on college campuses nationwide.

The Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee is a coalition of representatives from various campus organizations and departments and is overseen by the Counseling Center.

Cederberg expressed a desire for more support from Counseling Center staff.

“They [the Counseling Center] keep on using the same excuses when anyone critiques their services. But I don’t really see them pushing that hard on those above them to get anything to change.”

Sarah Cederberg, president of NAMI on Campus WWU

“NAMI and To Write Love On Her Arms are not student clubs or groups that we oversee or that we have any administrative oversight for,” Counseling Center director, Shari Robinson, said. 

Cederberg said her experience partnering with the Counseling Center on campus events has felt one-sided.

“They [the Counseling Center] keep on using the same excuses when anyone critiques their services. But I don’t really see them pushing that hard on those above them to get anything to change,” Cederberg said.

Robinson said other concerns raised in the statement were matters of logistics and, in certain cases, legality.

NAMI said that their peer support group meetings were not publicized to the Counseling Center website. Robinson said that doing so could have legal repercussions.

“That then gives the campus community the impression that that’s a Counseling Center group,” Robinson said. “If something were to happen, we don’t have vicarious liability with their group. They’re not Counseling Center employees, and they’re not Counseling Center volunteers.”

Another chief concern raised by NAMI president Sarah Cederberg was a 2016 incident involving another student. The student worked with Robinson to choose a new suicide prevention training program.

Cederberg said the student felt as though Robinson failed to communicate to the student when the Counseling Center chose a different program.

But Robinson said she did not tell the student they would use the program for sure.

Robinson said the student had introduced her to the suicide prevention training called LEARN, but that they ultimately did not use it because it is only a statewide program.

Robinson also explained that Question, Persuade, Refer, the training program that was ultimately chosen, has national recognition and is endorsed by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

“I agree. I don’t think the Counseling Center should be in Old Main. But this is where it was when I started the job. And long term, it takes a lot to move a department.”

Shari Robinson, Counseling Center director

Cederberg explained how that particular incident was one of the many times where she felt as though Counseling Center staff did not value or respect input from student leadership on campus.

“I personally think that they abused the trust that we had,” Cederberg said.

Cederberg said the Counseling Center faces wider, systemic issues that she feels cause mistrust among students on campus.

“They need to move spaces. It’s tiny, and it’s horrendous to find. It can be really inaccessible,” Cederberg said.

Robinson agreed that some improvements are needed.

However, Robinson said those changes are already taking place behind the scenes, and often require extensive time to implement.

“I agree. I don’t think the Counseling Center should be in Old Main. But this is where it was when I started the job,” she said. “And long term, it takes a lot to move a department.”

Robinson said Western, as a university, currently struggles with lack of space. This is an issue that several departments currently face across campus, she said.

“It’s not like we have an abundance of building space or office space. I feel very positive and hopeful that the Counseling Center will be moved out of this space eventually, but that’s long-term,” Robinson said.

Cederberg said the first steps she would like to see the for the Counseling Center to foster a healthier relationship with student leadership on campus would be improving communication.

“A lot of the things that I think are important are increasing the transparency,” Cederberg said.

Robinson said while the Counseling Center still faces structural issues, it has been taking steps to improve services and come up with innovative ways to increase accessibility.

“You can’t hire four or five counselors all in one year. We have to do this in a stepwise, gradual approach,” Robinson said.

Robinson said making the Counseling Center more accessible to students who may not feel comfortable seeking help may require innovative techniques.

“Right now the nature of counseling is done behind closed doors,” Robinson said. Robinson said she has encouraged her staff to become involved in groups across campus in order to encourage an open relationship between staff and students.

“You see the counselors out and about and not just in the ivory tower doing their work behind closed doors,” Robinson said.

Robinson, Cederberg and leadership from the Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee will meet next week to discuss the issues raised by NAMI On Campus.

The meeting will give student leadership an opportunity to voice their concerns and address ways to move improve the future relationship between student organizations and Counseling Center programs across campus.

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