Analyzing candidates' counseling-related platform points

by Ellie Smith | Contributing News Editor


How to improve mental health services on campus topped most presidential and executive vice presidential platforms this election cycle. But some of their plans are already in the works. We fact checked them for you.


Platform point: Hiring 10 counselors

Presidential candidate Ben Pryde said he would improve GW’s counselor-to-student ratio by hiring 10 additional counselors. He pointed to GW's ratio being one counselor for every 1,000 students.


Already in progress

Nance Roy, medical director at the Jed Foundation, an organization that promotes mental health for college students, said the optimal ratio of counselors per students is one per 1,000 students, which GW already has.


The University hired three specialized counselors last semester after two years of increases to the UCC's budget, and leaders have said they are looking into expanding further. A portion of the tuition increase for the Class of 2019 that the Board of Trustees locked in at its February meeting was specifically earmarked for campus mental health priorities.


Amid a University-wide budget crunch, 10 hires may be difficult to secure, but GW has prioritized mental health services expansion in the past: UCC was one of just three departments at GW to receive a budget increase last year. The University has already promised to add about eight new hires to the University Counseling Center – ranging from counselors and case managers to psychiatrists – using a portion of money from next fall's 3.4 percent tuition increase. Pryde did not say how he would cover the costs of hiring those additional 10 counselors.


Platform point: Increasing the number of free appointments

Pryde, presidential candidate Alex Cho and executive vice presidential candidate Casey Syron all said they would restructure the number of free appointments students can use at UCC. Pryde said students should be allowed 20 free appointments per semester with each additional appointment costing $10. Cho proposed that students receive unlimited UCC treatment if needed. Syron said he would work to allow unused counseling appointments roll over to other semesters, so students could have 24 free sessions over eight semesters.


Up for debate

UCC is a short-term center, according to its mission statement, and currently refers students seeking longer-term counseling to outside specialists. Roy said that nationwide, students who take advantage of university counseling centers attend five consecutive counseling sessions on average. GW’s current program allows six free sessions per year. Roy added that many universities offer between eight and 12 free sessions per year.


But with this year's budget crunch leading to cuts of about 5 percent across all divisions, it's hard to say whether more free sessions is a possibility.


Platform point: Creating a relationship with the Meltzer Center

The Meltzer Center is a mental health counseling program run through the University’s department of psychology, and Pryde said he would create a partnership to connect it with UCC.


Already in progress

UCC has already partnered with four GW mental health clinics in the area — including the training program with the psychology department and an art therapy program — as part of a GW mental health consortium launched in 2013.


Platform point: Central location of mental health student organizations

In addition to improving UCC, Pryde also said he would work with mental health student organizations by creating a central location in the Marvin Center where the groups could share offices.


Partially in progress

Active Minds, a student organization dedicated to mental health awareness, already has its own office on the fourth floor of the Marvin Center, a space all student groups can use if an application for space is accepted. GW’s chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms is currently applying for office space. Some student organizations, like Students for Recovery, do not have a centralized space to hold meetings and office hours.


Platform point: Student anonymity in Colonial Health Center

Presidential candidate Andie Dowd’s campaign focuses on preserving students’ anonymity when seeking counseling at UCC. She said she will work with the University to move UCC check-in to an online process, so other students in the Colonial Health Center waiting room will not know whether someone is coming in for counseling or a Student Health Service appointment. Dowd said she has already begun working on the system as a member of GW's health and wellness task force.


Up for debate

Currently, when a student is ready to be seen at the new center, he or she goes to the left for SHS or takes a right past the desk to visit the UCC. Mark Levine, senior associate dean of students, said the Colonial Health Center was built with students’ anonymity in mind. The area helps ensure anonymity with wooden dividers between groups of chairs in the waiting room and a walled-in check-in area.


“Mental Health Services within Colonial Health Center considers patient privacy and confidentiality of utmost concern,” Levine said. Other measures included soundproofing rooms, using frosted glass in the reception area and placing partitions between chairs.


Platform point: Leading the implementation of a peer-counseling program

Dowd, Pryde and EVP candidate Spencer Perry said they would prioritize the implementation of a peer-support program. University President Steven Knapp committed to funding such a program this year, which was a major platform point of current SA President Nick Gumas.


Natural expectation

Whichever candidate wins the election will be expected to advocate for student needs as part of the peer-support program's roll out.


Editor’s note: EVP candidate Carlo Wood did not specify any initiatives related to mental health in his platform. Perry said he generally supports the expansion of mental health resources on campus, but did not say how or what exactly he would change. With no specifics, we have nothing to fact check, obviously.