At the Dec. 8, 2013, Vassar Student Association (VSA) council meeting, then-VSA President Deb Steinberg ‘14 asked for concerns and comments from VSA council and at-large members which they wished to be brought up to senior administration. Council members and at-large constituents then went around the room and offered up their most pressing issues.
Many comments centered on Metcalf and the counseling services provided at Vassar, with a general push to have more resources available to the student body. Repeated complains about the lack of staffing and extended waiting periods for counseling services came up. The VSA then added an expansion of Metcalf resources to their list of items they would like to accomplish in the following semester.
In the Spring 2014 semester, the VSA looked into recent data surrounding Metcalf and found a 27 percent increase in crisis calls to Metcalf and a 375 perfect increase in after-hours calls.
More broadly, Vassar was compared to its peer institutions in terms of its psychologist-to-student ratio and was ranked 9th out of 16. However, when accounting for mental health professionals beyond psychologists, Vassar’s rank falls to 14.
This information, along with the fact that there was at least a two-week waiting period to be seen at Metcalf for counseling, spurred the VSA to draft a letter to senior administration requesting that a post-doctoral fellow be hired at Metcalf. A motion to endorse and pass the letter passed unanimously on the council floor, and so the initiative advanced to the next stage.
Over this past summer, major staff changes were enacted at Metcalf. These changes were in large part brought about by Vassar administration, specifically Dean of Students D.B. Brown and Dean of the College Chris Roellke, who confirmed that the College could financially support the hiring of several new staff members.
As of Aug. 15, 2014, the administration has supported Counseling Services in their decision to change their two one-year counseling positions to two permanent ones. The College has also approved the hiring of a post-doctoral fellow for this academic year.
The fellow will work with Metcalf and Counseling Services for one year, and will see a full caseload of students, thus alleviating the caseload for the rest of Counseling Services and allowing more students to access counseling on a more regular basis.
Additionally, the post-doctoral fellow will be able to respond to the crisis calls that Metcalf receives throughout the year.
The Miscellany News would like to commend the College for taking proactive steps to improve the condition of this gap in need continually emphasized by students and other Vassar community members.
Hiring permanent rather than year-long counselors will be greatly beneficial to students seeking continual services.
With more available counselors, we hope that the time a student must wait for an appointment will decrease significantly, and that staff can respond quickly to emergency calls. We also hope to see a healthier campus environment as a result of these services as they become more readily available to students.
Along with these new hires, Counseling Services will implement a training program this year for early-career professionals. The Counseling Services has invited two masters’ level students to work part time at Metcalf this year. Both students will be taking on a small caseload of students and also helping with those therapy groups are non student-led.
Such action represents what we believe to be one of the most important functions of the VSA: taking constituent concerns seriously and responding in an organized manner. In this instance, the VSA has successfully executed its mission to bring the needs of students to the attention of the administration, who, in this case, took action by addressing a lack of student services on campus. We hope that such coordination between the VSA and the administration continues into this academic year.
This issue is an important one for college students on a national level as well. American college students are one of the largest demographic groups among those seeking psychological services. Therefore, it is crucial that Vassar and other institutions continue to respond to the growing need for accessible and timely counseling and other health services.
One way in which such a need is met is through the available student support groups at Metcalf.
We at The Miscellany News support the creation and continuation of such support groups, many of which are designed to address specific needs of students, such as those dealing with social anxiety, loss or sexual abuse.
However, we do not advocate that these groups replace the one-on-one counseling to which we believe all Vassar students have a right. We hope that with the additional staffing, students are able to seek psychological advice in a timely and individualized manner.
We at The Miscellany News hope that all areas of student concern will be addressed in such a thorough, timely way.
The campus at large can only place its trust in a body which it believes to be capable and willing to demand concrete changes from the administration.
We would like to encourage the VSA to continue to consider major student concerns across campus and work hard to make these concerns known to administration in a timely fashion, as well as improve other areas of mental health services.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.