Camille: Welcome to the Reporter podcast. I’m your host, Camille Howard. This is the official podcast for Reporter Magazine, RIT’s awesome publication. Today we’re going to be talking about a topic that is an area of concern for a lot of RIT students, which is the accessibility and availability of mental health resources on our campus. There’s been a lot going on to help us figure out where everything stands. We have Morgan LaMere, welcome to the podcast, Morgan.
Morgan: Thank you very much for having me.
Camille: So you’ve written pretty much a beat by beat, step by step timeline starting in March of 2015 of all of the stuff that has been happening on campus in this department and it’s been a lot of stuff.
Morgan: It has indeed, yeah. Pretty much just a general timeline going from March of 2015 all the way up to 2018 at the end of the academic year.
Camille: Right. Can you give us a couple of the main points, a couple of the steps in the timeline that students might not be aware of?
Morgan: Sure thing. So, basically, in 2015, which kind of started this all off, RIT’s administration kind of hired an outside company to basically audit their services, and they hosted a lot of student sessions where they’d get their opinions. And a lot of these opinions were quite negative. So RIT’s administration took this and basically made some proposals. They created two new positions, one of them being the Counselling and Psychological Services director, held by Dr David Reetz, and basically they created a CAPS — created a 2015-2020 student affairs strategic plan to kind of handle some of these issues and move forward. They’ve created some new positions including new counselors, and they basically implemented some new services like their anytime hotline that can be called over the holidays and over normal hours. And basically some new things I’ll talk about later on.
Camille: Right, so, looking at that strategic plan that was supposed to address the school years from 2015 to 2020, there was a pretty substantial increase in the budget to the counselling and psychological services, is that right?
Morgan: Yes, that is correct.
Camille: And then we can go to the 2018 school year and see where a PawPrint got involved. This PawPrint was titled “Increase Funding to the Student Health Center for Mental Health.” So what we’re seeing is an increase in services but that does not mean necessarily the increase in need, is that correct?
Camille: Yeah, so how do you feel like the responses that have come from the school have affected the issues that are going on? What are the things that have been more successful, what are the things that the school could be paying more attention to, how can students be more involved?
Morgan: Okay, that’s an interesting question. So basically, we’re a campus of 18,000, now 19,000 students. It’s difficult to get all the student voices involved, and even when we do hear student voices, they’re often differing opinions. But kind of the general consensus from students so far has been a lot focused around … there’s just really long wait times. And even when we get past those wait times, it’s often group sessions, and group sessions aren’t as helpful as those individualised sessions. So RIT has been kind of trying to implement these new policies they’ve implemented walk-in sessions where you can walk in and basically do whatever you want to, talk to people, they’re creating this new program where they’re putting in individualized … there’s basically this new outreach coordinator that they’re currently in the process of hiring. They will go to students in their center of residence and speak to them and help them how they need to. They’re creating new counselling positions, they’ve created the hotlines, but to a lot of students this just hasn’t been enough. And that goes back to the issue of yes, they’re increasing their budget, and yes they’re adding more, but as we’ve seen the trends across the country, there’s been a lot more demand for these mental health services, and they can only request new budgets so much, and RIT’s administration has only been so willing to kind of help out with these budgets. So it’s kind of this back and forth about how much RIT can do and how much students need. It’s kind of been getting better recently, there’s a lot of new programs that are being implemented that have hope to them, but we’ll see.
Camille: Right. There’s another situation too which is kind of tied in with the ongoing conversation about the services available on RIT’s campus which is the situation that happened with Dr Kontor from the student health center. Do you want to illuminate to us what that story was>
Morgan: Sure, that is a complicated and convoluted story. So basically, this doctor who was qualified to update hormone prescriptions from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health was basically fired for providing these services to students. So there’s kind og two different stories to this. There’s RIT’s story and then her story itself. So she basically says that she never knew that there was this policy, that she could not provide these services. And one day she just got a letter that told her that she was being fired for breaking their policy. RIT basically says that they had informed her many times about this policy and she had ignored them and had continued to provide them. So there’s these two sides of the story here, but eventually in the end, she ended up getting fired. And any kind of hormone prescriptions and help to transgender students on campus, in that regard at least, kind of got eliminated and hasn't been provided since
Camille: But there was a PawPrint addressing this issue, correct? Is there momentum that you’re aware of to bring HRT back to campus?
Morgan: Recently there was this really big PawPrint petition that was kind of filed after the unfortunate student death but there hasn’t been — I mean there’s obviously been this new task force that was created to kind of implement these changes. We haven't seen the results of that and kind of not entirely sure if this transgender issue is going to play a big role in this task force. Obviously, many students would like it to but only time will tell, as it is a recently formed task force.
Camille: It seems like sometimes the university is coming at these issues of mental health with well intentions. I’m thinking specifically of the forum that took place after the unfortunate situation that happened on October 30 on campus. And students bringing to the table these thoughts and questions that they had about the diversity of their counselling services seemed like a surprise to the administration and is there any word on how important making sure that people with diverse needs are going to be addressed by mental health services?
Morgan: At the time of writing this timeline I did not get any specific information about diverse needs of students from my sources.
Camille: Yeah, so that’s something that students can continue to keep an eye out for and continue to be thinking about while they’re thinking about how they're going to interact with the university for their mental health needs. What are some of the progressions that you expect to see from the university regarding the situation to mental health? We’ve got the letter the email that was sent out, what can we expect to see?
Morgan: So we’ve gotten the promises from them, what we can expect now to see is hopefully their action on these promises. So basically around the time that I mentioned before, they’re creating this outreach coordinator position, they’re creating these new embedded offices in individualized colleges, and that basically includes … they will have specific staff who will be in colleges for these students, and they will be personalized to the college to be able to help their needs directly. And this kind of helps students who cant go all the way to the august center, anf they kind of, they have a very busy schedule, so in between classes they can just go into these offices and just speak with these individuals, try and get some help before the next class.
Camille: Yeah, and even sometimes having it be closer and having it be more accessible helps people to feel comfortable accepting those services.
Morgan: And they’ll hopefully get to know these people who are stationed in these colleges and that will definitely help them out.
Camille: yeah, and have a more personalized experience, and a more personable experience. What are ways that students can make sure the administration is following through with these promises? How can students advocate for themselves?
Morgan: So basically they can always advocate for themselves through student government and on the task force itself, it does have a strong student element and it definitely will try and get the students opinions factored in to all the decision-making. And this a little while ago, this isn’t too recently, but they advocated for a student advisory board to CAPS, so hopefully that’ll also get some student opinion directly into CAPS and their planning.
Camille: If a student is interested in getting involved with that task force, is there, to your knowledge, any way that they can?
Morgan: I’m pretty sure the task force has already been partially formed and it’s pretty much set up who’s gonna be on there for the student side of things, but they can always reach out to the students who are on the task force and try and advocate for what they want.
Camille: Yeah, and I’m sure that as that becomes more cemented that more information is gonna be available to the student body.
Morgan: Of course. It’s still in the process of forming and they’ve had some issues with that but it’s gone along well.
Camille: Yeah, one of the issues that I think I’ve personally taken away from this situation is just this sense sometimes of how long it can take for good things to happen on campus in this department.
Morgan: Definitely. And even with some of the good things that have happened over the years, there’s a lot of student who haven’t been able to, not necessarily take advantage of these sources, but don’t necessarily know what’s going on. So they think that we’re still in a position that we were like 10 years ago, that wasn’t in a good position mental health wise. But the administration has definitely — maybe not the administration but at least the individualized directors for student health have definitely tried to make a lot of progress. And hopefully more students will begin to see that progress, and begin to make use out of it.
Camille: Yeah, absolutely, and we appreciate those efforts and continue to hope that all the needs of all the students who have need are being met in a timely manner.
Morgan: Hopefully. Unfortunately though, there is one issue that kind of, when I did some of mt interviews wasn't really being addressed per say. A lot of students kind of had an issue with stands that some people at RIT have been taking, that basically says that we’d rather help multiple people once than help one person multiple times. And this idea kind of focuses on how we’d rather cover breadth over individualized help. And a lot of students don’t really like this because students have — only some students — have very specific needs and some students have worse cases than others, and they need more help. And RIT doesn’t necessarily seem to be helping those students as much as they want. For example, RIT has been suggesting that these students go to outside sources and basically try and get these outside sources to help them out. But there’s an issue with that, is a lot of students don’t have transport. They don’t have the time and the money for this and they expect the RIT health services can provide that. And it’s seemingly that they can’t at the moment. So that definite;y creates a big issue.
Camille: Yeah, seems like they cant, and even when you go on their website, I feel like it says, “short term,” “short term,” “short term …” They really are highlighting this as a … either a short amount of time to address maybe a smaller issue, or sometimes just a stepping stone in between another mental health service that students don't always have access to.
Morgan: And of course, from the RIT administration perspective, they only have I believe less than a dozen counselors available to them to serve the needs of over 18,000 students. And when there’s so many, wehen there’s this big increase in student need for mental health, it kind of creates this conundrum for the administration. Do they only provide for these few people? Or dot hey provide for everyone who needs it? Kind of creates a difficult issue for them, but that issue needs to be resolved in the future.
Camille: Yeah, absolutely. Are there any final notes or thoughts that you wanna leave our listeners today with, Morgan?
Morgan: I definitely want viewers to know that the administration released the Counselling and Psychological Services, they;re doing a lot to try and help, and you can always go and speak to them about what they're trying to do. And I definitely think it’s good to know what services are available to you, about the hotline, about these new in-office colleges, it’s good to know about that. But even though they’re doing more, if you feel like they’re not doing enough, definitely reach out. Let the student advisory committee in CAPS know, let the students in this task force know, just let your voice be heard, reach out, just try and let your opinions be known.
Camille: Right on. Is the article available in the print issue and online? Okay. So this has been Morgan LaMere, talking about the history of mental health services at RIT. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Morgan: Thank you for having me again.
Camille: For more information about this you can check out the article in the print issue of the Reporter on stands now. Also on the Reporter website at reporter.rit.edu. You can text and call RINGS, which is REporter’s anonymous phone thing to give opinions, give funny feedback, talk about what you had for lunch today, that phone number is 585-672-4840. You can check out Reporter on social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all that good stuff. I’m Camille Howard. Thanks for listening to the Reporter podcast. Have a good one.