The Pomona Dean of Students office has created a timely solution to last semester's increased demand for counseling services and the resulting long wait-times at Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services.
On Oct. 29, the student body was informed that there was a five-week wait at Monsour, leaving students in need of mental health services without critical care. Five days later, the college students received an email from Interim Dean of Students Jan Collins-Eaglin announcing that Pomona was initiating its own referral program for students seeking mental health resources off campus.
In an email to TSL, Collins-Eaglin described the program as a “proactive response to a crisis.”
“The President felt that the wait time at a critical time in the semester had to be addressed,” she wrote. “He set aside money if the [Dean of Students] office could pull together a program to help students during the time crunch.”
The Dean of Students office has identified local therapists that better represent students’ various backgrounds and offer specialized treatment for individual students’ needs, which works to mitigate student frustrations with the lack of diversity and representation at Monsour. Pomona supplements the cost by paying the insurance co-pay for counselor visits.
“We made sure the mental professionals represented as best we could diversity of our students,” Collins-Eaglin said. “Fortunately, the surrounding area has a good representation of counselors and therapists.”
The referral process is relatively simple: students send an email to the Dean of Students office, fill out a form, and then select the counselor they desire and contact them independently. None of the form’s questions ask the student to report their reasons for seeking counseling or personal information related to emotional needs.
For students who chose not to use Monsour due to the wait time or past negative experiences, this program provides an essential alternative.
“Last semester was difficult, in general for the campus community, not just myself,” Hannah Doruelo PO ’16 said. “I knew, in order to stay afloat, I had to make use of the resources available to me. My initial reaction was to go to Monsour, but I felt weird about doing that from my personal negative experience and the experiences of a bunch of my friends.”
Doruelo went to the Dean of Students office in person and describes the experience as warm and welcoming. After her visit, she received an email with a form to fill out and sign and a list of affiliated therapists. “I did my own research, chose somebody, called their office, and explained to them that I was a Pomona student seeking their services through Pomona’s Dean of Students office. They took down my information, talked to the Dean of Students office about financial stuff, and then got back to me and we set up an appointment.”
While she characterizes her experience as “pretty smooth,” Doruelo clarifies that other students have not had the same luck. “I know that some of my peers did not necessarily have the same experience that I did. Some people found that there were more barriers, but generally it had been really positive for me.”
“The process to actually get the funding to see a counselor seems like it had a lot of upfront work, which is potentially problematic because a lot of people going through different types of things already struggle to find the strength just to walk to Monsour,” Resident Advisor Avi Sheldon PO’16 said. “The fact that they have to send these emails and apply for funding and do all these extra steps before hand, it seems like it could also stop people from going who should be going.”
According to Adriana di Bartolo, Pomona acting associate dean of students for wellness and personal success, “roughly 90 students have requested a referral to a therapist in the Village and currently 2/3 of those students are seeing a therapist through this program.”
While the referral program demonstrates the capacity of the Dean of Students office to come up with creative and timely solutions, students are hesitant to dole out too much praise.
“I want to note and recognize that yes this is good work being done this is responding to what students need, but I caution against praising the office for doing work that should be expected,” Doruelo said. “It is a resource—it shouldn’t be a luxury.”
When asked what the next step the Dean of Students office will take to provide comprehensive mental health services to students, Collins-Eaglin stated, “Monsour has increased staffing this semester and the wait time has decreased. We hope that this situation will not occur again and there is no need for the colleges to supplement the costs for mental health professionals due to a 5-week wait time.”
Di Bartolo added, “This referral plan was in response to the long wait times at Monsour in the fall semester. Monsour is hiring new therapists so this program will not continue next semester.”
Sheldon expressed uncertainty about what will happen when the program ends.
“It is unclear if this is a short term fix or a long term plan,” Sheldon said. “If a first or second year gets a good relationship with a counselor are they going to remove this program two years down the line and make them change counselors? Or will the funding remain?”