Under continued campus scrutiny of Yale Health’s Mental Health & Counseling division, administrators have hosted open town halls, distributed questionnaires and suggested that they are willing to reform Yale’s formal resources. What has received less attention is their quiet adjustment to another, more informal mental health resource on campus: the freshman counselor program.
Training for freshman counselors, which began on March 27 and continues into the fall, has always focused on how to connect freshmen to mental health resources on campus, said Director of Student Life Hannah Peck, who directs the training program, adding that this component of training takes up more time than any other portion. While the changes for next year have not been solidified yet, she said, the focus of these developments will be on teaching FroCos how to help freshmen build community. To this end, the program will include a new session on navigating “difficult discussions.”
“We want the FroCos to have the ability to help their freshmen connect to others who have different life experiences [or] beliefs,” Peck wrote in an email to the News. “This is obviously a difficult task, but one that is vitally important in shaping Yale to be the kind of community we want it to be.”
Almost every session of the FroCo training program is amended on a yearly basis, said Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry. The mental health component of training usually takes place in the fall, he said, with FroCos participating in three evening sessions at Yale Health that involve meeting with psychiatrists, learning about resources and enacting role plays.
The “difficult discussions” segment in particular will offer strategies for FroCos responding to unexpected or painful disclosures, broaching sensitive subjects or facilitating group conversations “when emotions are running high,” said Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd.
All of the FroCos interviewed expressed satisfaction with their level of preparation to respond to freshmen’s mental health concerns. Jeb Roberts ’15, a FroCo in Ezra Stiles College, described the extent to which mental health considerations made their way into every part of training, even those that were not explicitly dedicated to the topic. For example, he said, during segments about alcohol use or the international student experience, the FroCos considered the potential effect of such factors on freshmen’s mental health.
Still, FroCos interviewed emphasized that their job is not to serve as a trained mental health professional, but rather as a conduit that connects students to those professionals. One of the biggest components of FroCo mental health training is simply learning to recognize warning signs, Roberts said.
In their roles as conduits, FroCos are also trained to explain Yale’s mental health system to freshmen and to dispel any misconceptions, said Lincoln Mitchell ’15, a FroCo in Davenport College.
“I think mental health at Yale does have a stigma in that there are a lot of misunderstandings about the processes that go on and what happens to students if they go to MH&C,” Mitchell said. “We are trained to properly answer those questions.”
If a student is hesitant about going to seek help, he added, FroCos will often accompany them to the Yale Health building or help them set up an appointment.
Ira Slomski-Pritz ’14, a FroCo in Davenport last year, acknowledged that when trying to help freshmen with their mental health issues, the greatest challenge is to get them to open up in the first place.
FroCos have served as an informal support resource during the recent campus conversation about mental health as well. They meet weekly with their residential college dean, Peck said, and these meetings allow them to develop responses to specific situations that arise on campus.
Both Mitchell and Slomski-Pritz said that while their training covered everything it could, there will always be issues training cannot address.
“Of course when something hard came up, I felt like I was adequately trained to know where to direct the student or at least had resources at my disposal to figure that out,” Slomski-Pritz said. “At the same time, though, of course in dealing with complicated situations, you always feel like you could be better prepared.”
There are 100 FroCos across the 12 residential colleges.