Dear TSL Editors and Pomona College Students,
I’m writing today to thank you for your concern with student mental health and your commitment—as stated in an earlier edition of TSL—to continue to cover this important topic. Your recent coverage highlights the need for Pomona College and The Claremont Colleges to continue the discussion of mental health issues by paying careful attention to student needs, questions and concerns, by being as clear as possible in answering those questions and providing information regarding resources, and by being vigilant in continually assessing and evaluating our processes to ensure the highest level of responsiveness to individual and community needs.
We want to provide students and the broader campus community with important information that relates to three key areas: What can a student expect from the available resources when an individual reports (or when it is reported) that they are in distress; what is the process relating to hospitalization; and, what is the process relating to returning to campus and the academic program? At all times, Pomona College looks to its carefully considered, published procedures, and for purposes of this article we specifically refer students to our disability accommodations policy, our Leaves of Absence Policy, and our procedures related to hospitalization. Our policies and procedures are reflective of national best practices, drawing on the work and recommended practices of the Jed Foundation and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
As background, the policies and procedures referenced below were developed by the Dean of Students Office and the Student Affairs Committee (students, faculty and Dean of Students staff) working with students, the 5C Mental Health Alliance, and the Mental Health Working Group.
What can a student who is in distress expect from available resources at the time of reporting?
Whether the process is initiated by the student or by a third party reporting a compassionate concern, the College’s top priority is the well-being of the student. When a student is presented as being in distress, the College, in conjunction with Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services (MCAPS), conducts an individualized assessment. There is no 'one size fits all' response; rather, we seek to determine whether the student, with or without accommodation, can safely participate in the academic and campus programs of the College. If an accommodation requires a form of leave from the College, we want to see the student return to the College and continue their studies and campus life–and through this case-by-case approach, we determine whether some form of assistance and intervention is necessary, and if so, what that intervention should be.
These considerations are conducted in a team environment where knowledgeable professionals can share information and consider all available resources depending on the specific issues presented. Members of that team may include student affairs staff, residence life staff, MCAPS, campus safety officials, faculty or academic advisors, and where applicable, treating medical professionals. And the most important member of that team is the student. Of course, we understand that students in distress often need support in making decisions and that there are times when emergency considerations ensuring health and safety are overriding factors, but we seek to inform and involve students throughout the process. In short, while campus safety considerations are, in some cases, critical to the process, we never forget that no one is more affected than the individual student, and we structure our response and assistance around this fundamental fact.
Accordingly, where possible, we review all options associated with treatment to help a student thrive on campus before a hospitalization is considered. We recognize that a student may need accommodations to help manage their academics. Accommodations may include allowing the student to: take a reduced course load or complete alternative assignments, postpone assignments and exams, work from home for limited periods of time if possible in the courses in which the student is enrolled, drop courses, change roommates, retroactively withdraw from courses, or move to an off-campus residence or different housing accommodations on campus.
The College and MCAPS can also provide options for individual or group therapy, new medication or adjustments to medication, and referral to providers in the community.
What if these resources do not sufficiently reduce the level of a student’s distress?
In this situation, hospitalization may be considered as part of a treatment program. When a student arrives at the hospital, the hospital staff conducts an assessment and decides whether the student meets the clinical criteria to be hospitalized. Only then is a student admitted. The length of the hospital stay is determined by the student’s clinical needs.
We know that a psychiatric hospitalization can be disorienting and frightening, and our goal is to support the student through the stay and to assure a continuation of care afterward. When a student is hospitalized, our practice is to visit the student at least once during the stay and to accompany the student to and from the hospital when possible. When Pomona staff members visit, we listen to what the student’s concerns are, share how we will communicate with their faculty, give them the information on how to contact the on-call dean for transportation back to campus, and review the protocol for returning to campus as described in our post-hospitalization procedures.
What happens to a student following release from hospitalization?
Following hospitalization for any medical reason, a student is released to Pomona College. It is our responsibility to work with the student in obtaining and coordinating resources to ensure a continuation of care and to help the student stay healthy and complete their education. In light of this responsibility, our procedures require that, after a hospitalization, the student must have an evaluation and debrief meeting with Student Health Services staff, Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services, or their external provider (as appropriate) to review their discharge papers, determine if the student is well enough to return to campus, and develop recommendations for accommodations and aftercare. The student then meets with the Dean of Students, and a written set of conditions for return must be agreed to before the student returns to their residence hall and/or classes. The purpose of both of these meetings is to develop a continuation of care plan to support the student’s success on campus and their health and wellbeing. Sometimes the discharge papers indicate that the student is not ready to return to campus and classes. In those cases, we counsel students on leaves of absence and other options.
Contacting Parents and Guardians:
Privacy of student records and health information is protected under FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act); privacy is our professional and legal obligation. FERPA’s health or safety emergency provision permits such disclosures when the disclosure is necessary to protect the health or safety of students or other individuals (CFR §§ 99.31(a)(10) and 99.36). When these elements are met, we do find that communicating with the student’s designated emergency contact can be beneficial in providing the assistance the student needs, and assisting the College in providing the student the foundation to thrive upon their return to the classroom.
The Dean of Students staff, and in particular the on-call deans, work in various ways to support all members of the community. These are difficult conversations and difficult experiences. Our commitment is to continue the conversations and continue to promote mental health sensitivity, awareness and support. There are many resources available for those who want to be more involved in these issues or who are experiencing distress, including the 5C Mental Health Alliance, the Dean of Students Office (909-621-8017), the on-call deans (reachable by calling campus safety at 909-607-2000), or MCAPS on-call and after-hours crisis service (909-621-8202).
Thank you for allowing me to provide background information on our policies and procedures. We believe there are always ways to improve our practices and we look forward to continuing to partner with students and our community to advance our work.
Acting Vice President and Dean of Students