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Student petition calls for more Wellness counselors

Lengthy waitlists inspire a petition requesting the addition of four to five new counselors in the Longbrake Student Wellness Center

Lily Iserson
Viewpoints Editor

On Oct. 21, Justine Walker ’18 and Arielle Welch ’18 introduced a new petition calling for the immediate placement of new counselers at Longbrake Student Wellness Center before the Board of Trustees. Now, the pair are waiting for word from the Board as they discuss possibilities of moving forward.

It was a tense evening in retrospect. The Board of Trustees had asked previous student campaigns difficult questions, and the atmosphere was rigid after a negative outcome of a conversation with the Black Students Association, which resulted in protests the day after.

“We’d been writing our speech all day, and we put our full hearts into it,” Walker said. Reading the room’s atmosphere, Welch and Walker found themselves editing their writing in the midst of the meeting; they felt determined to present their petitions in the best possible light.

Earilier in the week, Walker and Welch had tabled in Lowry on behalf of the Chemistry Club, where they gathered signatures for their cause. Although their tabling period was short by all accounts, in a three-hour block, Walker and Welch obtained around 650 signatures — almost a third of the student body.

Their speech cited issues students expressed during the petition process, issues that have permeated at The College of Wooster for some time: lengthy waitlists, a much smaller staff compared to schools with similar student populations and resources and, as of this year, a ratio of 1000 students for every one counselor at the Wellness Center. “Mental health is not something that can be swept under the rug or put off,” Walker and Welch argued. “If students don’t get the help that they need and were promised by the College, they may be forced to take medical leave, drop out or, God forbid, commit suicide. Mental health is a time sensitive issue that cannot wait over a month on a waitlist or two weeks between appointments to be addressed.”

Walker and Welch’s petition arrives on the heels of Wellness interviewing three candidates for a position in the spring. A Wellness Center report provided by Ray Tucker, Director of the Wellness Center, states that the Wellness Center traditionally employs two full-time counselors and at least one-part time counselor. This year, the Longbrake Student Wellness Center has also implemented the C-SSRS (Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale) screen and full-assessment to be used with students. According to the study, “this screening has resulted in an increased number of students counselors follow up with, either via email or in person, dependent upon the level of risk identified in the screening.”

“We are searching for a candidate with ability to move laterally in terms of handling the caseload and someone with good counseling skills that can relate to the college students,” said Tucker, who explained the process of hiring a new counselor as follows: “We first file a position opening, which I believe must be approved by the Dean of Students, if it is a new position. Then we see if we need to change the job specifications in any way before Humans Resources posts to the College website, newspaper outlets or any trade specific outlet. Candidates submit their resumes and cover letters directly to HR, though many send them directly to the departments; they are redirected to HR. The candidate’s information is collected in a database [for review]. Candidates are chosen usually by committee, then called with initial questions for clarification and further information. Then a final pool is brought to campus for a round of interviews with stakeholders from around campus. Hopefully a candidate is chosen from the face to face interviews, or the process starts again from the posting of the position.”

The last new counselor hired was Emily Harstine, who, at the time, worked with another fulltime counselor and an intern in 2015. Emily Harstine and Anne Ober remain Wooster’s only counselors. There are also no psychiatrists currently employed by the College.

“Our goal is to get ourselves fully staffed and, with the addition of Emily, we are a few hires away from that goal,” said Tucker in a Voice article published around the time.

Walker and Welch are in the process of discussing how to move forward after the petition and meeting. They have considered applying more pressure on the administration at the end of the semester or in the spring, establishing a shuttle service for getting students off-campus help and creating yet more petitions (many students couldn’t sign the initial petition and expressed interest). Both staff members were encouraged by the community’s positive reception and the support of the SGA, but they were worried about the timeframe of enacting possible change.

“Some transparency would be helpful,” said Welch.

“I would’ve felt better if they asked more questions,” said Walker of the Board of Trustees, even as Walker and Welch were grateful for the expressed support of Board member Christopher Causey, who approached them after the meeting.

Bronwen Kessler ’19, a student who supported the petition, said, “I really don’t know how it’s so difficult as everyone makes it sounds. It’s not like it’s Wyoming. There are people qualified for the job and decently nearby. I’m willing to say that.”

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