Students take mental health feedback into their own hands

A man and a woman sit on a bench and smile at each other outside under a tree.
Micah Sallus PZ ’20 and Rachel Caisi Miller PZ ’20 developed a mental health survey that hopes to improve 7C mental health resources. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

Many students across the 5Cs have stories about long wait times and inaccessible service at Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services, or know people who do. Now, a group of student researchers is trying to turn all those complaints into workable data.

The Claremont Mental Health Initiative, a student-led initiative aiming to improve 7C mental health resources, released a survey Feb. 23 to assess students’ experiences with access to mental health resources at the 7Cs. 

The online anonymous survey, which takes about five to ten minutes, will allow for a better understanding of both “the positive and negatives of what our current resources are,” according to Rachel Caisi Miller PZ ’20, who worked on the project with Micah Sallus PZ ’20, so that administrators can work to make improvements. 

The survey first asks students whether they’ve used Monsour’s services before; if respondents answer “no,” subsequent questions center around what resources students are aware of and what factors would make them more or less likely to use Monsour. If they answer “yes,” subsequent questions address aspects of their experience such as wait times and satisfaction with staff interactions. Free response fields also allow students to provide additional comments and suggestions regarding Monsour.

Miller and Sallus plan to publicize the summarized survey results so students and the administration will have access to them. As of Thursday, they’ve received 224 responses. 

Sallus said he realized during his first year that Monsour “didn’t have the funding to be able to branch off and create new projects and programs.”

The Claremont Colleges Services spokesperson Laura Muna-Landa said Monsour staffing has recently increased, but that she couldn’t comment on budgeting specifics.

Miller, who transferred to Pitzer after her first year, said when she asked other students about the mental health resources available, she would receive answers along the lines of “‘oh, there’s Monsour, but I don’t know if you would want to use it.’” 

After “hearing that narrative over and over again,” Miller got in contact with Sallus and the two decided to meet with administration to ask if there were any plans to improve mental health resources. 

Though administrators said they recognized the issues associated with Monsour, they did not specify any concrete plans for improvement, Miller said.

The consortium brought in a group of external reviewers to evaluate Monsour last semester. One of them said Monsour’s “reputational issues,” as expressed by students in a feedback session, were unprecedented in her 27-year career.

The review’s results will not be made public, according to Muna-Landa, but it “suggests the need for a proactive cultural shift in access and approaches.” 

Muna-Landa added that several short-term and long-term recommendations included in the report are currently being reviewed by TCCS Vice President for Student Affairs Janet Smith Dickerson, Monsour director Gary DeGroot and a group of other administrators.

According to Sallus, his and Miller’s survey is different from previous ones because it has received “unconditional 7C Dean of Student approval,” and since it is student-led, all students will be able to see the resulting data set. 

Miller and Sallus’ survey, according to Muna-Landa, was developed “with the knowledge and consent of Monsour and several faculty members.” Muna-Landa said the survey has “no direct link to the external review,” but that Monsour supports Miller and Sallus’ efforts.

“We are working from within administration and have everyone’s ear. We have a letter of support from Monsour. We have the questions that they want answered and need answered,” Sallus said. “It’s really a joint project that I think has a really good chance of actually creating change if that’s what the data suggests is needed.”

Miller and Sallus spent a year and a half drafting and revising their survey, taking feedback from  then-5C Mental Health Alliance President Sherwin Shabdar PO ’18 and at least two students from each of the seven colleges, Sallus said.

In order to ensure that the survey accurately measured students’ experiences, Miller and Sallus also worked with a professor of survey design and data collection at CGU, a Pomona graduate and a current CGU student who collects data for the Health Education Office, as well as Monsour itself in order to make sure “all of our questions follow good survey design for psychological surveys,” Sallus said.

Miller said she and Sallus worked to keep the survey short to cater to busy students. The 20 participants who have tested the survey took an average of eight minutes to complete it, Sallus said.

Sallus and Miller said participants are guaranteed anonymity and that all survey questions are optional. Though participants have the option to enter their emails for a chance to win one of four $50 Amazon gift cards, AirPods or a JBL speaker, email addresses will not be attached to any answer sets, Sallus said.

Miller also said she and Sallus are trying to make sure that others will continue their work after they graduate. They hope to create an advisory board that will work with administrators and analyze survey results or possibly create new surveys.

“This is just the beginning of something kind of big, we hope,” Miller said.

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