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Students push for relocation of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health

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Samantha Cohen. (Note: The opinions expressed by Ms. Cohen do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Dailycollegian.com, or the Collegian board of editors.) (Photo Courtesy of Samantha Cohen)

Samantha Cohen. (Note: The opinions expressed by Ms. Cohen do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Dailycollegian.com, or the Collegian board of editors.) (Photo Courtesy of Samantha Cohen)

This semester, University of Massachusetts students Samantha Cohen and Avery Hennigar began a community organizing project to mobilize students behind making the relocation of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health a priority of the school administration.

CCPH currently has services located in two buildings, 127 Hills North and 123 Berkshire House, on opposite sides of campus. These separate locations, according to Cohen, are a problem, causing complications when trying to treat students. Communication also becomes difficult, especially with high-risk cases.

According to Cohen and Hennigar, the accessibility of Berkshire House is a problem. “If they do need to call an ambulance right away, it’s not an accessible place for ambulances to be going through, and also if a student comes in to the main office in the middle of a crisis, the therapists are on the fourth floor,” said Cohen.

In addition, the working conditions of the buildings are “terrible,” according to Cohen, who described environmental health risks such as mold and asbestos in Hills North. According to Cohen, some of the rooms in the building are even closed off because it is not safe to spend more than an hour in there at a time.

Cohen and Hennigar began the initiative after taking a community organizing class this semester through the Citizen Scholars Program, a two-year service-learning program on campus. In the class, they were asked to find an issue that they feel passionate about organizing behind.

In CSP, students choose a local service site where they volunteer throughout the year, dedicating thirty hours of service each semester. Cohen and Hennigar decided to do their community service at MotherWoman, an organization that supports and empowers mothers. There, the two worked with women suffering from postpartum depression.

“Through our service at MotherWoman, we knew that we wanted to do something around mental health on campus,” said Cohen. They then began to mobilize students behind the relocation of CCPH, which turned into their Honors Thesis through the Commonwealth Honors College.

Cohen and Hennigar began their organization with one-on-one meetings with the director of CCPH and therapists on campus, developing goals and plans.

“As we learned more about the problem, we saw that this was an opportunity that students could really gather together,” said Hennigar. As public health majors, the women talked to other students in their classes, and learned that many do not even know where psychological services are located on campus or how bad the conditions are.

Avery Hennigar. (Note: The opinions expressed by Ms. Hennigar do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Dailycollegian.com, or the Collegian board of editors.) (Photo Courtesy of Avery Hennigar)

Avery Hennigar. (Note: The opinions expressed by Ms. Hennigar do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Dailycollegian.com, or the Collegian board of editors.) (Photo Courtesy of Avery Hennigar)

“Once we really realized how much of a problem it is and that nothing has been done on this issue in over 20 years, although [the administration has] been saying that they’re going to do something about it for the past 20 years, we thought this is something that needs some momentum, that needs a push,” Hennigar continued.

As an issue that has never been addressed before, the relocation of CCPH, according to Hennigar, serves as an opportunity “to give students a voice” and “address a problem that they obviously care about but maybe haven’t had the right platform to do so yet.”

To get more people involved, Cohen and Hennigar reached out to student groups on campus who they thought would be interested in the project. Some of these organizations include Active Minds, Psi Chi, the Public Health Club, the Multicultural Association of Psychology Students (MAPS) and the Public Health Student Advisory Board.

According to Hennigar, the response so far has been positive.

“[CCPH] serves everyone on campus and so we want to try to be as representative of that population as we can,” said Hennigar. In order to reach more people, Cohen and Hennigar organized a photo campaign in which they took pictures of students with a statement about why they care about this issue. They received 108 photos.

“At first, we just wanted to do this project, and the more and more involved we got, we realized wow, this is something that needs to be done and it’s really important to have student voices to try to solve this issue and keep the relocation efforts going,” said Cohen.

According to the students, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye has also been “very supportive” of their initiative, motivating them to continue their efforts. Cohen and Hennigar plan to meet with her in the fall to draft a timeline which they can commit to for the relocation, and begin a fund to start allocating money for the building.

Because the relocation process will take longer than expected, Cohen and Hennigar’s short-term goal is to improve CCPH as it is now.

“In terms of student efforts and our efforts, we kinda have to work with what we’re given,” said Cohen.

One of these goals includes improving the process of getting a therapy appointment to make it easier for students. Currently, there are several barriers, including phone interviews and the scheduling itself. And often times, by the time a student gets the interview or the appointment, circumstances may have changed.

Another goal of the students is to spread awareness about mental health services on campus, as some people are unaware about them.

“Hopefully through some of our actions as we move forward, that awareness will come,” said Hennigar. “I think it’s a valuable resource that we have and I think it is somewhat under-utilized,” she added.

For both Cohen and Hennigar, the relocation of CCPH is important because mental health is something that hits home.

“For me, depression is something that runs in my family, and even though it’s less severe for me and it’s something that I’ve experienced, it’s something that I’ve kinda struggled with because it’s taken me awhile to accept and realize that there’s not always a reason for feeling depressed,” said Cohen.

In the past, she has dealt with guilt surrounding this, which has made her realize how important this issue is to her. She has learned how poor mental health causes other problems in life, academically and socially, and that accessing these services on campus is a nuisance to many students.

Hennigar said she has also seen how it can be difficult to access these services and feels that mental health is something “stigmatized” in society today. She hopes to be part of the relocation and help to make the process of getting help with mental health easier on campus.

“This is a problem everywhere, and why not do something about it in our own community on our campus?” she said.

Julia McLaughlin can be reached at [email protected]

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