New report explores sensible methods to help the psychological well being of coloration college students

For many university directors, the past year has brought both mental health and racial justice to the fore. A November 2020 survey of college presidents by the American Council on Education found that more respondents viewed student mental health as a pressing concern than did spring school enrollment numbers.

In 2017, the JED Foundation and the Steve Fund published recommendations for universities to better address the mental health of black students in a document called Equity in Mental Health Framework. Through literature research and surveys, researchers found that black students were more likely than their white counterparts to report that they felt overwhelmed most or all of the time. Black freshmen were more likely than their white counterparts to report that they tend to keep their feelings about college challenges to themselves. The 10 recommendations to address the unique experiences of color students included creating senior staff positions to support their wellbeing, engaging students to provide feedback on programs, and sharing information between and within institutions.

Now the two organizations have completed a two-year pilot program to implement these recommendations at 18 colleges and universities across the country.

“This pilot has shown that mental health was important before the COVID-19 pandemic and will certainly be more important after the pandemic as we understand the racial trauma that we have experienced and the impact that trauma has on mental health and that Wellbeing for color students returning in the fall, ”said Laura Sánchez-Parkinson, director of partnerships, programs and research at the Steve Fund, via email.

One of the key recommendations of the framework is to establish color student mental health as a campus-wide priority. About 80 percent of the institutions that completed a survey after the pilot made reference to color student welfare in the department or area goals, and about 27 percent mentioned this in the strategic plans. All colleges and universities surveyed mental health students, and 93 percent of them worked to diversify the counseling staff.

Many of the campuses similarly set up advisory boards and groups focused on the mental health of color students and began offering educational programs on topics such as racial stress and the threat of stereotypes.

Sofia Petruz, senior advisor at the JED Foundation, said many university leaders are grateful for outside support. Once recommendations were made, administrations were able to meet benchmarks.

“Having outside people working with you on your campus reinforces the things that you have already said and seen in your own data,” she said.

Two of the most important aspects of a successful campus response that the researchers noticed were executive approval and collaboration across departments and divisions.

“It can’t be just one person or a few people. It really has to be a campus-wide priority. We learned that when senior executives were involved and resources were available, there were definitely better results for the students, ”said Petruz. “People who have difficulty pointing out the problems and who have just tried to say, ‘Something is different here; we need to do a little more to support color students, “finally felt vindicated and could say it out loud in environments where there may have been no discussion before.”

The project was not without its challenges. The framework was originally designed to run on campus, but the pandemic has made this difficult. Institutions have had to switch to virtual counseling and programming while struggling with tight finances. It was initially a challenge figuring out how to run programs like student affinity and support groups while making them accessible and maintaining a sense of privacy, Petruz said. But ultimately, virtual support groups were bigger than on campus.

“Students who were unable to attend some of the self-help group meetings on campus were now able to participate virtually as they did not have to take care of childcare or care for the elderly. You didn’t have to travel. They didn’t have to stay on campus long, ”she said.

Online listings may stay here to stay in some form. Students were already setting up group chats to find each other, she said. The universities are catching up on what they have already created.

Recruiting is also a challenge for some institutions, Petruz said, as is maintaining the programs, while some staff may be on leave for financial reasons.

“At some universities, because of their location or lack of diversity for their faculty and staff, it has been really difficult for some of them to attract faculty staff, and especially colored advisors, to their campuses,” she said.

Based on the results of the pilot, the Steve Fund launched the Equity in Mental Health on Campus initiative to help campuses work together and understand their racial narratives, said Sánchez-Parkinson. But for those in higher education who are still working to generate interest in programs like this, there are things they can do to support the mental health of color students, she said.

“For those still working on building momentum on their campus, they can initiate cross-unit conversations, train faculty and staff, or address a specific policy that could adversely affect color students,” she said via email. “What we saw is that once the conversation begins, campus leaders can build momentum and get the support they need to make lasting investments and changes on campus.”

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