Julia Henry

In the wake of months of vocal student demands last year for enhanced mental health services on campus, Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin outlined changes to Mental Health & Counseling Thursday in an email to the undergraduate student body.

Among the most prominent updates are the December appointment of Howard Blue as deputy director of MH&C, the introduction of electronic messaging to schedule counseling appointments and the hiring of 2.5 new full-time-equivalent staff in the fall semester. In his message, Genecin also affirmed MH&C’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and said the department will continue to build a diverse staff to meet the needs of students on campus.

“An atmosphere of inclusion and the appreciation of diversity are core values in Mental Health & Counseling,” Genecin wrote. “We provide care and service to students of all races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Clinicians’ ability to understand the impact of cultural or ethnic identity in students’ lives is essential for forming effective therapeutic relationships.”

Approximately 30 percent of students seeking care in MH&C during the 2014–15 academic year are members of an ethnic minority, Genecin said, a statistic that reflects the percentage of minority students in the Yale population. Within MH&C, 20 percent of clinicians identify as ethnic or racial minorities, and the entire staff will receive ongoing training to help them better understand the wide diversity of Yale’s student body, he added.

Blue, a man of color himself, will be responsible for increasing awareness of mental health issues on campus and developing programs that focus on diversity and inclusion for all students, Genecin wrote. He added that Blue will collaborate with the University’s four cultural houses to determine ways that MH&C can help and support their programs. Blue did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

University Deputy Press Secretary Karen Peart said MH&C Director Lorraine Siggins created the position of deputy director in response to the growing size of MH&C, the scope of its activities and the complexity of running a department with over 30 staff.

She added that Blue’s qualifications made him the clear choice for this new role, given his experience in matters of diversity and inclusion.

“Dr. Blue is an outstanding clinician. He is a capable administrator and for many years he has been responsible for certain aspects of MH&C operations,” Peart said. “Dr. Blue’s interest in racial and ethnic diversity, and his expertise in this field, have been assets in MH&C and in the psychiatry training program at Yale School of Medicine … Dr. Blue’s expertise in this area is certainly relevant and he will be working with the cultural houses to identify needs in the coming year.”

University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews said that, having worked with Blue on numerous occasions, she believes his appointment is excellent news for Yale students. Blue will be able to bring his deep care for student well-being and his many years of experience as a professional, among many other things, to this new position, Goff-Crews added.

Students on the Yale College Student Advisory Committee to MH&C — a group established in spring 2014 that works to enhance services and improve communications between MH&C and undergraduates — expressed general satisfaction with the new measures.

Eli Feldman ’16, one of four undergraduates on the committee, said the student representatives worked directly with Genecin and Siggins. Both Feldman and Mari Kawakatsu ’17, another student representative on the committee, said the addition of electronic scheduling was among the most notable updates.

“Any enhancement in the health service for students is important, but I think that the electronic scheduling is definitely something to note,” Kawakatsu said. “It directly responds to the [Yale College Council] recommendation in their 2013 Mental Health Report, which noted the frequent complaints about telephone scheduling. I hope that the new electronic system can ease the process of making appointments for students.”

The ongoing diversity training for MH&C staff, Kawakatsu added, will help the department continue to improve mental health and counseling services to Yale students.

MH&C saw over 2,000 students by the end of last December, which is about 16 percent of the current Yale University student population.