The Gustavian Weekly

Counseling Center hires BIPOC support professionals - The Gustavian Weekly

By Marie Osuna - Staff Writer | September 18, 2020 | News

President Rebecca Bergman announced the hiring of two new counselors on the first day of fall semester who specifically support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students. The change stems from the work the Counseling Center has been doing in conjunction with the President’s Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (PCDEI), the Office of the Chaplains, the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) and student activists.
The mental health professionals, Monica Mikhaeil and Deja Jackson, just started this week and are still getting settled at both Gustavus and the Counseling Center. They are also still deciding exactly what services they would like to offer. But even in the first few weeks, they have already made plans to meet with students and are hoping to make an impact on the community.
“I remember what it was like for me in college, so if I’m able to provide one person the sense that they can come to the counseling center that might have felt they couldn’t before, that would be really good,” Mikhaeil said.
The new counselors help support the Center’s long-term goal of diversifying their office so all students have a mental health professional they identify with.
“We know that although every licensed mental health professional is trained to work with people representing many intersecting identities, it remains for many an important factor to see themselves represented in their counselor, especially when it comes to racial representation and GLBTQA identities,” Hannah Godbout, Director of the Counseling Center, said.
The PCDEI team, chaired by Chaplain Siri Erickson, helped support the counseling center through the process. The idea, however, came from students themselves.
“[Our BIPOC students] have been asking for a number of years for a therapist who not only looks like them in terms of skin color, but also understands the unique mental health challenges BIPOC students may be facing and how they may be different from those white students are facing,” Erickson said.
Since the death of George Floyd, President Bergman, along with the PCDEI and the Board of Trustees, committed not only to funding the new counselor positions, but also to examine biases, practices and policies that are preventing everyone in the community from feeling fully included.
“Siri and I will work together to provide regular updates to the campus on Gustavus’ Racial Justice and Inclusion work. We commit to transparency, accountability and meaningful action that makes a difference to the entire Gustavus community,” President Bergman wrote in an email to the Gustavus Community.
The next major change students will notice from the PCDEI team is a renovation of The Dive to provide additional space for the CEI and students working on DEI education and action. The updated space will include offices, a gathering space for the CEI and a space to host events that support their goals.
“I’m excited that it’s happening. It’s been a conversation for some time now… to know that it’s actually moving forward is a pretty big thing,” Tom Flunker, Director of the CEI, said.
Flunker hopes the renovated Dive space will be a more versatile space for students, and will provide more ways for students to connect with staff and faculty.
In addition to the renovation, the PCDEI team is working towards hiring an external evaluator to examine various aspects of the community, including human resources and the campus safety office, for areas of improvement.
“That work is happening in the background, but will ultimately have the most benefit in the long term,” Erickson said. “Stuff is bubbling up at the grassroots level, and we (the Cabinet) are trying to bring that kind of energy and passion from the top down.”
Flunker is also optimistic about the changes that will come from the external reviewer’s findings.
“When you take into consideration all the things that are going on—not just on campus but the world—you can’t just change a name or pursue getting better and not evaluate how you are doing things. It’s very difficult to do that internally because you are in it. The fact that we are bringing in experts to review different processes and procedures is a wise move because it shows intentionality on our part,” Flunker said.
Flunker also acknowledges that there have been some setbacks and slowdowns to their work due to COVID changes.
“We have some incredible ingenuity on our campus, Flunker said. “We will find ways to do the work that we want to do, it just may look different. Actually, not may — it will look different.”
As for the Counseling Center, they plan to continue to grow in their offering of support groups and services for BIPOC students. There is a BIPOC support group in the works, as well as existing services of Queer & Questioning, Let’s Talk consultation times, triage services and traditional talk therapy. Those at the Counseling Center want to keep communicating that they are open to everyone.
“I’m really excited to be here and live in this community and see what kind of impact I can have, and the students can have on me too,” Jackson said. “All students are welcome at the Counseling Center, so we look forward to meeting you all.”

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