The Colgate Scene
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Trust, respect, support, empathy
Counseling & Psychological Services helps students fulfill their potential by providing clinical therapy and extensive outreach
|by Rebecca Costello|
SCRC member Archana Nath '02 gives a presentation at the Harlem Renaissance Center.
A modest sign posted on the corner of the stone house lets visitors know they have found the right place. Office Manager Rose Novak welcomes visitors with a blend of warmth and professionalism. With its comfortable furniture, oriental carpets, plants, built-in bookshelves and fireplace, the waiting area has the air of a living room. Having arrived early for an appointment, a student dozes on the sofa. Discover, Utne Reader and other magazines, and small museum store puzzles populate the end tables. Watercolors, prints and black-and-white photographs grace the pale wallcovering, textured like handmade paper. A framed reproduction of an 1896 Madisonensis article provides a snapshot of Conant House's early history as home to biblical scholar Thomas J. Conant (its first resident) and Dr. Ebenezer Dodge, "among the most potent influences that have made the Colgate University of today," and later, professors and missionaries returning from India.
According to its mission statement, the Office of Counseling & Psychological Services "seeks to assist students in fulfilling their potential by stimulating, supporting and encouraging the intellectual, emotional, ethical, physical, social and spiritual dimensions of their development."
"It's absolutely essential that students feel safe and know that their privacy is respected," says Thompson. Conant House is just the right place, filled with caring professionals who are there to help students in many ways.
The staff has four full-time and one part-time counselors (a full-time intern position is currently vacant). Thompson observes that this fall has been the busiest semester in staff memory. One in three students will visit the counseling center for clinical needs at some point in their four years. The majority are seeking help with problems that are in some way impacting their college experience. As Thompson explains, "A student may be unable to focus on academics as they would like, or interpersonal relationships aren't of the quality the student might desire. He may be afraid to speak in class, or there may be pressures and stressors felt from home, either real or perceived."
In addition to scheduled appointments, the center provides a daily open consultation hour, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. when a counselor is on standby to respond to concerns identified by students, faculty or staff, as well as 24-hour crisis coverage during the academic year.
The average number of clinical visits per student is six (close to the national average), yet the mode is one. "We are fortunate to not have session limits. Someone could theoretically engage in therapy once a week for their entire four years if necessary," remarks Thompson.
When a student needs more intensive attention than can be provided on campus, the counselor works closely with the student and family to determine the best course of action. The center consults with the psychiatry staff at Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, as well as Four Winds and St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, and when necessary, coordinates with the student's psychiatrist, therapist or family doctor from home.
"I start with the assumption that parents are vitally concerned about their daughters and sons," explains Thompson. "However, our legal and ethical guidelines dictate that we cannot disclose even the fact that someone is using our service if we haven't received permission. There are three exceptions established by law and our professional ethics: a student in clear and imminent danger to self or others, current child or elder abuse, or by a court subpoena, but rarely do they come into play."
As counselors, Thompson stresses, the staff anticipate and address this issue up front. "I'll say, `Let's talk about who knows that you're coming in. Do your parents? If they were to find out, how would you want me to respond to a phone call from them?'" If referred by another department such as the health center, the student is encouraged to acknowledge, or give the counselor permission to acknowledge, they've come in and to carry out necessary follow-up. "The more people who support the changes that someone is looking to make, the better the chance of success. We'll explain that and ask if parents, a significant other or roommates can be part of the environment that supports the change. I frame it for the student as, `I'd like to help you to reach your goal as quickly as possible. Let's talk about who might help you to get there.' This is one hour out of 168 hours in a week, and while things may be working well in here, the litmus test is what happens outside the office."
With permission from the student to do follow-up, the center takes a comprehensive approach to care and treatment. For example, for someone with an eating disorder, an eating issues management team of staff members from the health center, a nutritionist and, in the case of a student athlete, an athletic trainer, will provide medical and other monitoring to supplement psychotherapy.
"I think about all 2,800 Colgate students as the people that we hope to impact," says Thompson, "by helping with normal, predictable developmental issues that will happen for virtually all college students between ages 18 and 22, such as independence, identity, decision-making, communicating and forming relationships." By graduation, nearly every Colgate student will participate in at least one program sponsored by Conant House, and the center has also offered programs for staff and faculty, such as smoking cessation and stress management workshops.
"One of the things I feel best about is our terrific staff," remarks Thompson, "which makes us a wonderful resource on campus." When appropriate, they collaborate with other departments such as health services, campus safety, student activities, residential life, the cultural center, fraternity and sorority affairs and career services. He points out that the extent of their outreach, which combines participation in campuswide committees with advising student groups, is possible because "we're fortunate to have the necessary staff to meet our students' needs. Schools that have a much higher ratio of students to staff are just not able to be out in the residence halls, and work with the student groups, because all their time is spent in clinical work."
The goal for outreach is to disseminate vital information in an accessible format, and teach students how to make healthy decisions. To help students face common issues -- alcohol and other drugs, relationships, sexuality, body image -- peer education is one of the most effective tools. "Peer education works," explains Staff Psychologist Shelly Lear, "because students realize that peers are likely to understand their experiences."
Thus is her approach, as a member of the campuswide Drug and Alcohol Awareness Group (DAWG) and advisor to Colgate's branch of BACCHUS, an international peer education organization. Jones says DAWG "gets people to focus on
alcohol and all the sidebars that go along with drinking and college. It's an opportunity for all campus factions to come together and discuss the underlying issues." Meeting every two weeks, DAWG works to address all the steps that each area should take in terms of policy implementation, curriculum, assessment, training, awareness, support and intervention, staffing and enforcement.
Jones gives presentations on substance abuse in residence halls and for training RAs, Links and other student staff, writes pamphlets and advisories for the dean of the college staff, and offers an eight-hour program called On Campus Talking About Alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Hamilton are open to Colgate students, and during Homecoming, Family Weekend and Reunion, daily Friends of Bill W. meetings are held on campus. In addition, Jones manages a confidential volunteer alumni-student network where those in recovery from addictions talk to students about their experiences or advise them about resources in different areas.
The BACCHUS group uses active and passive programming to get its message out.
"For one, our social norming programming proves that not all students drink on a regular basis," says Jesse Turner '02.
"We don't teach people not to drink alcohol," says Jessica Ruggiera '02. "We teach responsible drinking and educate people about what to do when a friend has had too much."
As certified peer educators, the BACCHUS students offer creative educational programs such as trivia games or interactive plays on alcohol and other drugs and play a major role during Alcohol Awareness Week.
Ever-more popular are the "mocktail bars" BACCHUS sets up at tailgates, Spring Party Weekend, social nights at the cultural center and other campus events, to provide alternatives to alcoholic beverages. Jones notes they served 5,230 mocktails last year, and more than 2,000 by mid-October this year.
Jones and BACCHUS also assist the athletics department in planning its NCAA Choices grant programming -- which sponsors an alcohol-free activity with an education component each month. This fall, the "Get Hammered Olympics" weekend demonstrated other ways to get "hammered" besides drinking.
Passive programming includes handing out cards that list the ABCs of recognizing alcohol poisoning and the New York State drinking and driving laws.
"Jane is so important because she knows all the educational information we need," says Ruggiera. "She also gives us support outside of BACCHUS and knows when we need a break."
Turner notes, "We have support and people are motivated." Ruggiera agrees. "It's a tight-knit group. We're like a happy family."
The SCRC provides support, education and outreach to victims of sexual assault as well as the Colgate community in general. Caldwell meets monthly with the three student coordinators, guiding them in their planning. She's proud of their efforts. "They bring speakers to campus, run educational programs in the dorms on safe sex and sexual assault," she says. "They're very open. It's been great."
"Christina has made such a difference in the group," says Stephan-ie Rowley '02, an SCRC head coordinator.
Archana Nath '02, SCRC's program director, makes regular presentations in the residence halls, "not just about sexual assault, but also about making healthy decisions in general, about safe sex, contraception and what's offered by health services and Conant House. I try to open up a line of communication between people. Talking about sex is still taboo, but it needs to happen. I don't tell them what to do. I show them how to decide for themselves."
The SCRC's major annual event is Sexual Violence Awareness Week, with speakers, films, interactive performance groups, a "Take Back the Night" march and a speak-out that is known to be one of the most widely attended in the country.
"It's so profound and amazing to see people there," says Rowley, "plus all the people who are there to support their friends."
"We welcome people of both genders and any sexual orientation and hope that they feel comfortable coming to us. My goal is to get people to Conant House or other help," says Nath. "We're a doorway to the counseling center."
Men Advocating Change
The coalition Men Advocating Change (MAC), which Thompson helped to found and
now leads, focuses on acquaintance rape and sexual assault prevention. Since
most sexual assaults are perpetrated by men against women, the group's message
is that men have the primary responsibility for creating a safer climate for
women on campus and in society.
Together with Thompson, MAC student coordinators give workshops to all-male audiences, in residence halls as well as for all new members of fraternities, who are required to attend. The presentations teach the facts about acquaintance rape and how to respond in helpful ways should a friend or relative become a victim.
"It's much easier for guys to talk to guys," remarks MAC member Bill Plunkett '02. "The idea is to promote student-to-student learning so that the audience doesn't think it's the administration preaching to them. It becomes more interactive and they ask more questions."
Matt Lucarelli '01 remarks, "We want them to be aware of the rules that govern us and also, what is the right thing to do."
"I also ask them to dispel myths they hear, and to educate others," notes Tim Seamans '02.
In the final stages of becoming an official organization through the Student Assembly, MAC plans to expand its programming to address other issues of importance to men, such as what it means to be a "real man" in society today, violence and aggression, sexuality, loneliness, competition, sports, relationships and other related issues.
"Mark's been excellent," says Lucarelli. "He's our guide on how to deal with these volatile and very personal issues."
Plunkett may speak for all when he says, "I think it's worth my hour if I reach even one person."
"College age is a particularly precarious time for developing an eating disorder," says Lear, who is new to Colgate this year and took on initiatives regarding eating issues and body image. While eating disorders affect eight to 10 percent of the general female population, she points out that the rate for college women is closer to 20 percent and the incidence of eating disorders is increasing for men.
Carron Griffin '01, a Panhellenic Council representative on FEDS as a sophomore, became a BIN coordinator this year.
"Shelly is our amazing source of info and she has great ideas," she remarks. In addition to promoting positive body image and self-esteem, BIN offers programs on how to help a friend. "Everyone on the BIN group has a friend with an eating disorder or body image problem," Griffin noted. Posters in residence halls and on bathroom walls educate students on the symptoms of eating disorders and where and how to get help.
FEDS and BIN's annual "Love Your Body Week" is sponsored by a host of campus programs and offices. This year's included guest speakers Donna Lochner and Dr. Frank Gorman, who gave talks about how to help a friend or significant other with an eating disorder, a body image and identity workshop, a speak-out and free chair massages at the fitness center.
"We wanted to kick-start a positive view of body image," Griffin notes. BIN staffed an education table at the Coop featuring an expression sheet. "People could write things on it, like `I love my curves' and we hung it on the wall at the speak- out," she explains.
BIN, which is developing a peer educators group, has a core of 12 women, but one of the goals is to reach out to men as well. "They're the brothers and fathers and boyfriends," says Griffin.
"I feel privileged to get to know the students," says Caldwell. "There are so many wonderful students here and I get a lot of satisfaction from helping them during such an important time in their lives."
Jones concurs. "I am able to impact them before they suffer a major loss. Seeing them become the person they're supposed to be" is a rewarding part of the work.
"An exciting part of working with a student population," says Nolen, "is they're interested in learning about what's going on with them. It's a big task, to figure out who they are and how they fit in."
"One of the things I like about being part of the staff at Conant House is that students seem to feel comfortable here asking for help," says Lear. In therapy sessions, Lear stresses that it's important to "develop a relationship of trust and respect, support and empathy" with the students she is helping so that they can learn a healthier way of thinking about themselves. "Like a good parent, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job."
"Students live, study and play with their peers and we can help them to figure out how to be doing that in healthier and more enriching ways." says Thompson. "We're in an enviable spot."
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