Cassie Follman ‘20
Last Wednesday, a group of students issued an open letter directed to the President and Board of Trustees concerning funding for counseling services.
Kitty Chen ’21, Julie Destine ’21, Amelia Eigerman ’21, Emily Fitzgerald ’20, Sophia Giattina ’19, Sophie Hatcher-Peters ’21, Savannah Pees ’19, Paige Salters ’21 and Amelia Windorski ’20 penned the open letter. As of last Thursday, the letter garnered over 600 signatures.
Dean Donna Lisker defended the current abilities of counseling services and emphasized the administration’s dedication to supporting students. She told The Sophian, “We are aware of the open letter, and we share student concerns about mental health on campus. The health and welfare of our students are vital, and we are always happy to talk with students about concerns and ideas for improvement.”
“Students in crisis will always receive an immediate response,” she said in response to a portion of the letter that critiqued the office’s waiting periods to see a therapist or counselor. “Depending on the severity of their concerns, some students will receive a follow-up appointment immediately; others may wait longer.”
Despite these reassurances, one of the driving forces of the letter urges the administration to provide more resources and shorter wait times.
According to Lisker, the college has already added many resources in the past few years, including the “adding a second psychiatrist, adding an additional therapist, increasing hours for existing staff, designating additional funding to hire a predoctoral fellow for diversity and inclusion, who started work in September 2017, and supporting students with diverse identities is important to Smith.”
Windorksi, who helped pen the letter amongst other Smith College students, spoke to The Sophian concerning the reasoning and goals behind the letter.
“This is letter was inspired not just by my experiences but my conversations with other students. I am very open about the fact that I have utilized counseling services during my time at Smith and that experience has been positive and helpful for me,” Windorski said. “Talking to other students this year, I learned how long the wait list for counseling was and noticed that this was taking a toll on the student body.”
Higher numbers of students requesting appointments with similar amounts of staff creates these long wait lines, leaving many students with the feeling that there are not proper supports available to them when they are in need.
Many studies and articles have been written recently about mental health on college campuses in recent years. “I did a lot of research and read some articles about how different colleges address mental health. Interestingly, demand for mental health services is [on the rise] at many schools, not just Smith,” Windorski said.
The Atlantic reported that in a study by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health found, “Not only did the rise in demand for counseling services outpace that of enrollment growth, it also outpaced it by five times as much.”
Windorski did some research around Smith campus. “I emailed Kris Evans, Director of Counseling, to ask about counseling statistics and Smith,” she said. “We had a really good conversation about things counseling is trying to do to remedy this situation. However, we did not talk directly about the letter.”
“I hope this is a catalyst for administrative action to expand the Counseling Service’s resources,” Windorski said of her letter. “I am aware and appreciative of the fact that the Counseling Services is working towards some non-fiscal solutions to the wait list problem and I am sure that there is dialog going on in the administration that I am unaware of.”
Dean Lisker seemed to share this sentiment, expressing that the administration is always open to further dialogue with students and improving the services provided to students.
“While there is a lot of momentum right now around this petition, I know this process is more than just gathering signatures, handing it off to President McCarthy, and waiting,” Windorski said. “There are many students – myself included – who are committed to seeing this through and working collaboratively with the administration, Counseling Services, and the Smith community towards positive and lasting change.”
While the administration retains that it has provided proper services to Smith students, Windorski and her co-authors are determined to have their message be heard.