The Claremont Colleges have seen a substantial increase in the number of students seeking mental health services over the past few years, but Monsour Counseling Services hasn’t kept up with demand. In October 2014, Monsour announced a peak wait time of five weeks for intake appointments. Students, faculty, and staff across the 5Cs have scrambled to provide supplementary support through increased programming, initiatives, and working groups. Yet students still report a lack of awareness about these efforts.
Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) President Nico Kass PO’16 attributed the increase in student demand for better mental health resources to “inadequate mental health care, not enough availability, representation, or specialists.”
“There is also a need to discuss why students are having such mental health issues, from anxiety and depression caused by institutional pressures, to trauma caused by systemic oppression,” Kass said.
Last semester, in response to student demand, the Claremont Colleges created the 7C Mental Health and Wellness Working Group. In an email to TSL, CUC Vice President of Student Affairs and Chair of the group Denise Hayes wrote, “The purpose of the mental health and wellness group is to identify resources on The Claremont Colleges for mental health and wellness to support students.”
Following guidance from the Jed Foundation Campus Program, a national campus mental health organization, the Colleges have committed to a four-year process that will conduct an assessment of their mental health services and programs.
Health Education Outreach (HEO) director Elizabeth Amezcua elaborated that the working group is mostly advisory. Students in the group said that it focuses on data collection and student feedback on Monsour. While membership is composed of one student and one dean from each college, attendance has been inconsistent.
“It is mostly CMC and Pomona,” Hannah Leib PZ ’16, a member that a professor referred to the committee, said. “I am the only person from Pitzer. It is kind of a small group, unfortunately. I wish there were more people. I think there are more people that are in the email chain but just don’t come to the meetings.”
Mia Hahn PO’16, Asian American Mentor Program (AAMP) head mentor and working group member, expressed similar concerns.
“I think it is hard to get everyone there,” Hahn said. “I do think the past few months is only the beginning. A lot of emphasis was talking about needing the deans or staff here because they are the ones that are going to be here for four years and actually carry this out, versus the students who are more transient.”
Some participants expressed a general lack of clarity about the CUC mental health and wellness working group’s longterm vision, powers, origin, and structure. However, most remain hopeful about its potential for impact and are excited about its capacity for data collection.
The CUC working group does not have any information published about their process online, nor have any informational emails been sent to the student body. Additionally, students at the Claremont Colleges have not been notified about the four-year assessment program in which all the schools are participating.
The lack of information available to students about the formation of working groups, the ability to join them, or the updates on their progress is not unique to the 7C mental health working group, according to some students.
“I don’t think they sent updates to the student body when there were changes in students in the working group mostly because it was pretty fluid,” said Orren Arad Neeman PO ’16, who sat on Pomona’s Title IX working group. “A lot of students who were on it originally stopped showing up for various reasons; they changed the meeting times. As far as I know, they also didn’t send emails about looking for new people. That seemed pretty on the down low to me.”
Nathalie Folkerts PO ’16, a member of the Pomona College Mental Health Working group, identified the problem as a “transparency barrier.”
“There are so many resources and so many people trying to do something, but it is so spread out,” Folkerts said. “A lot of students do not feel the administration is doing much. I think part of that is that students don’t really see what is going on.”
The Pomona College Mental Health Working group, composed of faculty, staff, and students, is chaired by Acting Dean of Students Jan Collins-Eaglin. Folkerts described the group as in the process of trying to figure out its purpose. She also indicated a lack of consistent faculty and staff attendance at meetings.
“The thing is that there is a bunch of faculty and staff on it,” she said, “but they cannot always come to meetings.”
While the group cannot directly affect Monsour, they are working on hiring a new case manager for the Dean of Students office and on organizing faculty trainings to make additional classrooms and office hours available.
“To me it feels like all of these initiatives are just the Band-Aid, what can we do to plug the hole, but what is causing it is the real issue?” Folkerts said. “To have comprehensive resources we need to have a bigger Monsour that more people feel like they can connect with.”
Brittany Beasley, a postdoctoral therapist in Monsour, is trying to bridge that gap and to support underrepresented groups on campus. She is launching “Let’s Talk,” a program in collaboration with the Office of Black Student Affairs that provides drop-in consultations for 7C students. In an email to TSL, she wrote, “Given that students do not always feel comfortable going to counseling centers or they just need a place to talk once or twice, I thought it may be helpful to find a way to go to a place where students may feel more comfortable.”
Student organizations focused on mental health issues include the 5C Mental Health Alliance, Thrive, and the Pomona College Wellness Peers. Hahn expressed the hope that as these groups become more established, they will be better able to utilize pre-existing resources and communicate effectively with various initiatives. For now, there appears to be no imminent structural fix for our campuses’ mental health support system.