POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – The academic, social and nearing professional demands of college students can sometimes be enough to warrant the need for a support system for some.
When a Change.org petition regarding the state of Marist College’s Health and Wellness Counseling Center circulated Facebook last spring semester, students and faculty were surprised at what they read.
The petition cited a survey indicating 80 percent of students were unaware of the various group counseling sessions offered, including guided meditation, drug counseling and relationship therapy. Another 77 percent of students did not know about Marist’s 24/7 on-call counseling service.
“There are dedicated professionals willing and able to lend their services to students, but are not being promoted properly,” the petition stated. “Therefore an increase in funding will allow for more informative advertisements, posters, RA training, and possible prevention programs in Freshman Year Seminars.”
Marist Class of 2017 graduate Danielle Richardson, the author of the petition, began researching the Marist’s Counseling Center for a Social Change course.
“It started out as a senior project with me and 4 other seniors for our sociology class with Dr. [Justin Sean] Myers,” Richardson wrote in a message. “We all had friends either been turned away due to lack of availability or uncomfortable because of the lack of privacy.”
The Counseling Center shares waiting room space with Health Services. Richardson’s student interviews highlighted the stigma faced by students seeking counseling whose names were called but “were led into a different door.”
“All the information they provided to me was new and a bit shocking,” Myers said.
Unpleasant experiences with the Counseling Center is not shared by all students.
“They’re pretty accommodating [when making appointments] that go around my schedule,” said one anonymous student. “I’ve had a positive experience and it has been effective.”
With a Facebook page that has not been updated in over three years, Marist’s Counseling Services promotional tactics are not entirely modern. Their new Instagram account started posting regularly last semester. The meeting times of the Center’s groups are primarily advertised on its page on the Marist website.
“There’s a meditation group…which we loved but…we were the only ones who went,” Richardson wrote. No one showed up for the Meditation Mondays group on September 25, including the instructor.
“[The Counseling Center has] been brought up every year, but nobody has made any significant progress because it is hard,” said SGA President Matt Marotti.
Approaching Marotti with her petition in April, both Marotti and Richardson view space as a major obstacle.
“The Student Center was remodeled a few years ago…we kinda have to work with the space we have,” the junior said. “We’ve looked at spaces on campus [to move the center], like Donnelly…but there’d be a disconnect between where the appointments are and where the records are kept.”
Marotti mentioned second hand stories of people waiting a few weeks for a counseling appointment and “hear[ing] mixed reviews” of the 24/7 on-call counseling service.
“[The faculty] really have to judge how quickly [a student] can need an appointment,” Marotti said. “There’s a large demand for appointments…which is why we try to have those [large] group sessions.”
Richardson’s survey states 70 and 75 percent of students would prefer email and social media promotion of counseling services, respectively. Dean of Student Affairs Deborah DiCaprio consistently emails students about the resources available.
“I’d expect to see in the near future, the next month or so, more publicity…as a lot of students don’t even open that email, some of it goes to the spam folder,” Marotti said.
Students actively seeking out counseling may also be more aware of it, regardless of promotion.
“Half the people I talk to didn’t know there were offices back there,” said an anonymous student. “Nobody really knows all their offerings.”
Counseling Center staff were unavailable to give a timely statement.
“Reality is, we live in a world where if it’s not in our face, we’re not going to look for it unless we need it,” Marotti said. “At the end of the day, I want people to know this is an issue we acknowledge and are working on.”