Glaeser Awaits Budget

Echo Thorpe, Staff Writer

It’s no secret that college life is stressful. Between new living situations, rigorous academic settings, and new social dynamics, it’s difficult to find time for yourself. These pressures may turn into an array of mental health issues. The Chronicle for Higher Education says that mental health is becoming an issue of greater interest, citing a recent donation to Rutgers University of $30 million from alumni for mental health support on campus. It’s not only private donations; in 2018, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provided over $200 million dollars to higher education facilities in Pennsylvania alone. Even at our own Juniata College, the recent substantial donation from Carl Glaeser led to the development of the new Glaeser Counseling Center.

Mental health is an issue that has persisted, not only at Juniata, but throughout the country. The Chronicle stated that “Stanford University recently added four clinicians to its counseling center as its provost called student mental health the “single highest priority and most compelling need” on the campus.” When speaking with other Pennsylvania College Directors for Health and Wellness, Dickinson College’s director, Jennifer Zeigler, commented, “We typically are able to meet the mental health needs of Dickinson students who seek out our services, but we also assist students with off-campus referrals if they require a higher level of care that we can’t offer.”

Unfortunately, this is an impractical solution for Juniata students, as we find ourselves in a far more rural community. This means students here rely almost entirely on the services Juniata can provide. However, The American Psychological Association reported that in 2016 41.6% of students experienced anxiety while 34.4% experienced depression. They continued to state that 19% of Directors for Health and Wellness felt there aren’t enough resources to deal with these issues.

Between counselors, psychiatrists, and additional resources, investment is reflected in numbers, be it money or resources available. So how invested is Juniata financially and as a whole in mental wellness?

Looking into available resources, we spoke with Juniata’s Assistant Dean of Students for Health and Wellness, Tasia White. This is a new position at Juniata, a demonstration of our growing attention to overall student health. White has held this position for only three months, and while she is still settling in, she had a lot to say on our mental health services. Previously, she served as a head of Residential Life, and as such, grew to be aware of many student issues. She had held positions at Clarkson University and the State University of New York, both relatively large universities. “However,” she states, “my last school had the same number of counselors as Juniata with double the population.” While on the topic of counselors, she added, “The best part of Juniata’s approach to mental health is the people, retaining them, and giving them the development they need to continue the work they’re passionate about.”

Overseeing the Glaeser Center for Counseling Services, she is still waiting on the annual budget, though that hasn’t deterred her from acting in other ways. Wanting to increase counselor to student ratios, she is seeking to hire new, part-time counselors to help lighten the load. She feels she receives enough money to meet basic needs, but with greater funding she hopes to “be more creative in expanding our services.” These goals have come to light with our recent addition of free group counseling for college adjustment, domestic violence support, and LGBT issues (the last two are being offered through the SPoT).

Mental health issues present in many diverse ways. When those get overwhelming, you may find yourself in Patty Klug’s office. Patty Klug has been our Director of Student Accessibility Services since September, 2017. Here, she works to find accommodations that are individualized to each student, be it electronic note-taking technology, flexible attendance, or acquiring an ESA (Emotional Support Animal), amongst others. The number of students she assists in this is rather impressive too, with roughly 180 students, or 13% of the student body, being seen, and more coming in every day. All this support doesn’t come for free, though. Klug works out of the QUEST budget with typically $2000 to $3500 per year to work with. This is mostly for software, while programs, such as Autism Awareness Week, come from donors or grants. With greater funds, Klug aspires towards greater programming, mentioning a Universal Design for Learning, which would make classes themselves more accessible for neurodiverse students. She also hopes for an Accessibility Team, which would evaluate both immediate needs and needs going forward for students engaged with the accessibility department.

As for her issues with the system and aspirations for its improvement, she says that “I feel very supported by the administration.” A recent addition of organizational software that will help Klug stay up-to-date and save time stands as evidence to that. She claims the software will be a “greater streamliner of processes” and “make us more available for students.” She feels strongly about a peer-mentor program for students with learning disabilities, and already has two mentors in training and hopes to add a third. When asked about Juniata’s assets in the fight for mental health, she cited the counselors, “I love our counselors… I think they’re trying to think proactively.” However, she did not find our system without fault, “We need to be working together in more coordinated ways that still protects a student’s confidentiality.” She believes the aforementioned software may help in this. Finally, she says, “This [student mental health] is all our responsibility. We need more trainings and to be aware of these issues.”

Mental health is clearly an ongoing issue that has only recently started getting the attention it deserves. This leaves institutions such as colleges scrambling to catch up. Luckily, organizations and alumni have put forth fiscal efforts to make mental health a priority, and Juniata is among those who have benefitted from these funds.