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SHC-building (1)By Caroline Nguyen

Two weeks ago, UCI received a C- in outreach, accessibility, and diversity of mental health resources per statewide evaluation.  Our intention in releasing our university’s nearly failing grade is not to cultivate distrust in or discourage students from using our Counseling Center.  On the contrary, it is because of our faith in and the verified competence of our mental health providers’ existing services that we are detailing ways our school administration can better support them in serving rising clinical usage.  


Diversity:  

Our Counseling Center scored in the upper half in the section evaluating whether or not our clinicians’ skill sets and identities reflect the clients they serve.  All UCI counseling staff are trained as generalists, but have experience working with students from marginalized backgrounds.  Clinicians are also appointed as liaisons to the Veteran Services Center, Graduate Division, Campus Village Housing, Transfer Student Services, and Athletics, which fosters communication between wellness units and other geographically separated or functionally disparate departments on campus, creating the framework necessary to nurture a healthy learning community.

This quarter, two students were selected from the LGBTQ Mentor Program, COACH program, and Peer Educators to participate in the recruitment of additional mental health professionals.  During the outreach community forum, which is one of the final stages of the hiring process, they were invited to view and rate the remaining candidates.  According to Counseling Center Associate Director Dr. Frances Diaz, these students’ assessments were awarded the same weight as other staff on the hiring committee.

UC Davis uses a program called the Community Advising Network (CAN) to connect underserved communities to counselors.  Not coincidentally, UC Davis’s CAPS Center received a B-, the highest sum grade in the system, as well as the highest diversity scoring.  Therefore, it is imperative that student representation in the hiring process become permanently institutionalized at UCI, as well as expanded measures of input and accountability to ensure that students’ providers represent their multidimensional identities and unique demographics.

 

Outreach:  

Our Counseling Center received a perfect score in the section evaluating outreach, which is consistent with sub-scores received by other campuses.  Counseling staff make continuous, tireless strides to educate students on available services, publicizing them through social media, paper brochures, and help signs.  Our Counseling Center participates in the National Depression Screening Day and Zot Health Fair every October, both of which increase their visibility and presence among students who may not be familiar with their functions.  Last summer, they hosted 9 workshops for incoming freshmen during SPOP, followed by an Open House, during which attendees toured the Counseling Center and learned about the variety of mental health resources at their disposal.

These strong outreach efforts, compounded by joint work from the student community to de-stigmatize treatment, have contributed to an unprecedented soar in service usage.  Between 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, the number of clients served at our Counseling Center grew from 1606 to 2112.  Within the past 5 years, the percentage of unique students seen has risen 62%, while enrollment has only risen 11%.

 

Accessibility:

Despite an approximate 30% growth in staff and service, our Counseling Center’s budget for supplies and materials has not been adjusted by administration.  The lack of financial support for technology upkeep and upgrades derails staff’s ability to serve students per increasingly complex confidentiality and medical documentation protocol, as well as drains their limited monetary budget.  In fact, in October 2015, the Electronic Medical Records system at the Counseling Center’s satellite location broke down, and a new administrative assistant was contracted to help maintain its functioning.

By far the greatest factor lowering the accessibility score, however, is absence of physical room to accommodate growth in offices, group therapy rooms, and waiting rooms.  The Counseling Center has not been allocated new permanent room since the 1980s, and any space annexed for satellite usage is only temporary.  Since August 2014, counseling staff have been working remotely from a second location in the Student Center, which costs $6,000 per year in rent, further chipping away at their dwindling reserves.  In spite of creative efforts on the Counseling Center’s behalf to maximize the functional potential of current space, counseling staff members must share offices to meet not only the upsurge in clinical usage, but also allow peer staff adequate work room to serve our student body.

 

What Next?

In response to ballooning traffic at CAPS centers, the UC Board of Regents implemented a 5% annual increase in the Student Services Fee in early 2015, with 50% of every dollar being earmarked towards hiring additional behavioral health clinicians systemwide.  With this student-generated revenue, 10 new staff members will be arriving at our Counseling Center within the next 12 months, and speed or magnitude of growth of the behavioral health team cannot hinge on availability of open offices.

With this in mind, we are calling on our administration to increase their level of financial contribution to developing physical space and contributing to infrastructure (technology, operations) costs.  The inability of existing room to meet service demand does not indicate a shortage on students’ end to self-fund their wellness.  Rather, it indicates that the University of California has more work to do to fulfill its mission as a public trust.

Last winter, students welcomed a 5% increase in their Student Services Fee to hire additional mental health practitioners.  Last summer, UCSA congressional membership voted to dedicate 2 years to grassroots and administrative mental health reform.  This spring, student-initiated mental health conferences will be held on at least 4 campuses across the UC.  This timeline shows that students have been diligently, triumphantly advocating for their own needs — using their knowledge as organizers, clients, and peers to drive progress in the greatest capacity their roles allow.  In order to continue the momentum, administrators must also use their roles, training, and unique relationships with donor foundations to pull their own weight and exemplify servant leadership to the academic community.

 

Caroline Nguyen is a fourth-year social ecology major. She can be reached at cnguye48@uci.edu.

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