Following weeks of student demonstrations last semester calling for an improved campus racial climate, students and administrators alike have paid increased attention to updating and improving Yale’s mental health resources for students of color. The conversation comes as Yale grapples with larger questions of how to provide quality mental health care for all its students, and administrators have emphasized a focus on broader reforms that will affect not just students of color, but all students seeking mental health care.
In a campuswide email in November, University President Peter Salovey promised the Yale community that professional counselors from Yale Health’s Mental Health and Counseling would work with cultural center deans to provide mental health services at each center: the Asian American Cultural Center, the Afro-American Cultural Center, La Casa Cultural and the Native American Cultural Center. In addition, last week, Yale Health Director Paul Genecin announced in an email that Howard Blue — a man of color who was appointed the inaugural deputy director of MH&C in December — will lead the collaboration between MH&C and the cultural centers, and shape programs that address diversity and inclusion on campus. As MH&C looks to hire more clinicians, especially clinicians of color, both Salovey and Genecin have emphasized the importance of more general changes, such as multicultural training for the entire MH&C staff and improved efficiency overall.
“We are still early in the process of laying out how we can sustain and enhance our mental health supports for students on campus, and particularly for students of color who highlighted the issue during the fall semester,” Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard told the News. “Together we are considering ideas such as whether it may be useful to have counselors and clinicians connected with each cultural center, similar to the Mental Health Fellows that are already connected with each residential college.”
But Howard also emphasized that the administration’s priority is making MH&C services more accessible and less constrained by the administrative red tape many students have criticized. While the administration wants to provide support and education to the Yale community, it also does not want to create redundancies or further complicate the existing system, he added.
Strains on the system — which students have often called understaffed and overwhelmed — may have become especially apparent last semester, after weeks of turbulent events surrounding racial justice: In his email, Genecin noted that there has been an increase in demand for mental health services as compared to the same time period last year. But he also noted that MH&C had added 2.5 full-time-equivalent positions in the fall semester.
Both Howard and Genecin also emphasized that while the administration recognizes that students may be more comfortable seeing clinicians of their own race or ethnicity, the entire MH&C staff is receiving multicultural sensitivity training and is capable of understanding issues unique to each cultural group. Currently, approximately 20 percent of the 27 clinicians at MH&C identify as ethnic or racial minorities.
“I think that some students mistakenly assume that if a counselor does not share their particular cultural or social identities, that they may not be able to be effectively helped by someone at Mental Health and Counseling,” Howard said. “However, the staff dedicate a great deal of effort and professional development time to learning about history, conditions and approaches for working with different groups — as Yale attracts a widely diverse student body to campus, and they are committed to providing support.”
Similarly, Genecin wrote in his email that an “atmosphere of inclusion and the appreciation of diversity” are “core values” within MH&C.
Beyond these general updates, the specifics of the collaboration between MH&C and the cultural centers remain unclear. While a few of the cultural centers hosted mental health professionals last semester, currently no clinicians are permanently stationed at the centers, according to Af-Am House Director Risë Nelson and NACC Director Kelly Fayard. More concrete details have not been released.
“Our center does not have any mental health counselors or staffing,” Nelson said. “But I look forward to working with Dr. Blue and various university and local mental health resources on making offerings even more accessible to the center’s constituents.”
Blue and MH&C Director Lorraine Siggins did not return requests for comment about the timeline of implementation for mental health resources at each cultural center.
Still, students interviewed, both in the midst of the campus protests and this week, stressed the importance of mental health reforms specific to students of color, not just to MH&C beneficiaries in general. In particular, they highlighted the need for more mental health professionals of color.
“I don’t think having a non-Native counselor who has gone through trainings would be any more helpful than a counselor who has not gone through training, because the cultures we are raised in have very different reactions to mental health,” NACC Peer Liaison Katie McCleary ’18 said Monday evening. “Having a Native person as a mental health professional is extremely vital to helping Native students.. Someone who is just trained to be culturally sensitive wouldn’t have that background and wouldn’t be able to help us in a way we need.”
The program budgets for the cultural centers will also double in the next academic year, according to Salovey’s announced changes.