March 3, 2003

Gannett Attracts More Diverse Staff

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Gannett: Cornell University Health Services continues to make counseling services more accessible to minority students through various outreach programs intended to bridge Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) staff and students outside of the clinical setting.

In addition to creating a more diverse staff last semester with the hiring of two African-American staff members–CAPS psychologists Dr. Velma Williams and Dr. John Wright — the CAPS staff has launched a series of outreach programs addressing “as many diverse communities as we can,” including Asian-American, African-American, Latino/a, Native American, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Questioning (LGBQ) and international communities across campus, according to CAPS Director Dr. Phil Meilman.

CAPS reported a general increase in the number of patients and number of the visits from African-American and Latino/a patients in comparing last fall’s visits with the previous fall’s statistics.

51 African-American students were seen in 157 visits in the fall of 2001. In the fall of 2002, CAPS saw 69 African-American students in 234 visits.

CAPS reported a similar increase in visits from Latino/a students. 76 Latino/a students were seen in 275 visits in fall of 2001. In the fall of 2002, CAPS saw 98 Latino/a students in 318 visits.

Though the number of visits has increased for some minority groups, the number of visits from other minority groups has not increased significantly.

“A whole lot more can be done to make counseling services more accessible to all students,” according to Wright.

Though Wright said that the demands for mental health services exceeds what the University can provide, the CAPS staff is reaching out to “those individuals who wouldn’t typically access our service” while “creating a service that is more efficient for those who do.”

“We’ve gone to great lengths to reach out to constituencies that normally might be reticent to come to [CAPS],” Meilman said.

Elisa Cruz ’05 said that the implementation of a diverse staff at CAPS has made seeking counseling a more “comfortable situation,” especially for students in the minority community.

“If there is access to a therapist with similar backgrounds as me, I will be more likely to seek help when I need it,” she said.

Last fall, Dr. Sigrid Frandsen-Pachenik, psychologist for CAPS, held a series of discussions entitled “The Joys and Challenges of Being Other-Than-Caucasian at Cornell.” This semester, Frandsen-Pachenik continues the discussions in informal sessions through the Latino Studies Program every Wednesday afternoon.

The discussions are an ongoing part of Gannett’s effort to reach out to minority communities, and serve as a safe space for students of color to talk about various aspects of the minority experience, according to Frandsen-Pachenik.

“In the group discussions, we try not to emphasize the negative aspects of being a minority,” she said.

Instead, the discussions address the challenges of being a student of color by celebrating the unique aspects of the experience, such as knowing two cultures and languages and being able to navigate through various situations, according to Frandsen-Pachenik.

“Students leave with a sense of validation, feeling good about themselves and who they are,” she said.

Frandsen-Pachenik also offers free informal counseling sessions at the Latino Studies Program called “One-on-One with Sigrid” every Wednesday afternoon.

“Bringing up or admitting to mental health issues for Latinos is very difficult, and among families it is not even talked about or recognized,” Cruz said.

The informal settings of Frandsen-Pachenik’s counseling sessions encourage students to feel more comfortable about talking to someone and allow students to find out what other services may be useful to them, Cruz said.

Williams and Wright hold support group discussions similar to Frandsen-Pachenik’s sessions for African-American students. Williams directs a discussion group entitled “Sister Chat” Wednesday evenings at Balch Hall, and Wright plans to launch a support group for men of color next week.

In these sessions, Wright aims to assist students of color in “combating some of the negative perceptions of what CAPS can offer.”

“CAPS is really evolving, and because there is a lot of change happening internally, a lot of the members of the minority community are not aware of how accessible and diverse the staff actually is,” Wright said, pointing out that Gannett has four psychologists of color on staff, each skilled at working with people of color.

In addition to a diverse staff and outreach groups for minority groups, there are other ways that CAPS tries to create a safety net for all students, according to Meilman.

Working with residence hall staff, campus life, community development, advising deans, Empathy and Referral Service and Cornell United Religious Work, Gannett fosters a relationship with “resource individuals and offices that often serve as eyes and ears, observing difficulties that students are experiencing out there,” he said.

“We also have two Gannett staff whose work is devoted primarily to outreach consultation with the colleges, athletic teams, community development and other groups as part of the University Counseling and Advising Network team,” according to Meilman.

For Wright, aside from implementing the individual outreach programs, “community education is the key” to cultivating an environment where all members of the community, especially staff and faculty who have contact with students on a daily basis, are knowledgeable of the issues afflicting students and have the potential to assist them in their needs.

Archived article by Janet Liao