New Mental Health Initiatives Encouraged By JED Program


Khadijah Halliday

Students can seek mental health support at the Counseling Center located in the Student Health Center.

Following a four-year partnership with the JED Campus program and a series of staffing changes in the Office of Student Life, the College has started to reenvision mental health resources on campus. Notably, the College has been utilizing funding from Rise and Thrive — an emergency relief fund provided through the Ohio Department of Education under the CARES Act — to expand and invest in mental health resources at Oberlin. In addition to these newer efforts, the College is seeking to consolidate its Student Help and Resource Exchange program and hire a new case manager for the program to better assist students in need.

In 2018, the College first partnered with the JED Campus program, a consulting organization that assessed Oberlin’s mental health environment and provided a set of recommendations for improvement. Last summer, the College completed the final steps of the program, which included submitting a checklist of completed recommendations. According to Assistant Dean and Interim Director of SHARE Monique Burgdorf, who ultimately took leadership of implementing JED’s recommendations, only a few changes remain to be put in place, most of which involve facilities-related suicide prevention.

While Counseling Center Director and Psychologist John Harshbarger did not cite a direct impact that JED had on the Counseling Center, he did highlight a recur- ring issue that the Center has faced this semester in pro- viding students with the care they need.

“The one thing that we will be addressing, that wasn’t necessarily a JED recommendation, but we feel that it’s very important that students are seen in a timely manner,” Harshbarger said. “We generally like to get [first-time] students in within a week for an appointment and this year it grew to more like two weeks before, especially at the end of the year here. … What we’re looking to do is to have a model starting next year in which we are going to be offering more walk-in availability.”

College fourth-year Brandon Lopez Toro echoed Harshbarger’s comment on the Counseling Center’s long wait times.

“I needed to make an appointment with the Counseling Center, so I called their office,” he said. “Between the time I called and my actual appointment it was like … two or three weeks.”

According to Harshbarger, the Counseling Center anticipates serving over 900 students by the end of this academic year, a small increase from its previous record high of 890 students in 2018–19.

Although the Counseling Center has not been impacted by JED, the program did give rise to the new OC Mental Health Coalition. The group has members from departments across campus who meet on a monthly basis to discuss and plan mental health-related programming and resources for Oberlin students. Other offshoots of JED’s foundational efforts include training faculty members in supporting students who are struggling with mental health, and a minority mental health committee that is specifically tasked with focusing on the ways that mental health and identity intersect. According to Mental Health Promotion Coordinator Sophia Garcia, OC ’21, OCMHC’s broader goal lies in addressing the environmental factors that can contribute to mental health issues. Additionally, Harshbarger says a new position for the Counseling Center — a Clinical Care Coordinator — has been proposed. This new position, if approved, would help students navigate finding outside mental health resources, such as connecting them with local therapists, helping them utilize insurance coverage, and following up with students who were recently hospitalized.

OCMHC met with members of the College’s executive leadership team Monday to present the coalition’s ongoing mental health projects and to request financial support to continue these initiatives moving forward, as funding provided through Rise and Thrive will cease this September. According to Garcia, funding remains the biggest obstacle to solidifying and expanding mental health resources at Oberlin.

While the College seeks to expand new initiatives, it is also working to consolidate preexisting resources, such as the SHARE program. SHARE serves as a means through which students can seek help if they are struggling emotionally or in daily life. Students and faculty members can also anonymously file reports through SHARE if they become concerned about the wellbeing of another student.

Burgdorf has served as the sole coordinator and case manager for SHARE in the past month. She said this has been a heavy burden, especially as she also balances teaching three courses. In the month of April alone, SHARE received 51 incident reports. However, the College is in the process of hiring a SHARE-specific staff person whose only job is to manage SHARE cases.

“There used to be a SHARE advisor of the day, plus a SHARE director who would take in all of the reports and then she would kind of act as a clearing house of information and then farm it out to individual SHARE advisors of the day to address the needs of the students and to follow up,” Burgdorf said. “[Now] it’s just me. … There is a tremendous amount of volume, but if I were not teaching three classes … I think it’s probably manageable.”

The recent developments in mental health resources on campus also include a significant amount of partnership with community resources. In addition to coordinating with local addiction assistance programs and therapy, new efforts are emerging to provide College-funded mental health resources to community members.

“The super cool thing about Rise and Thrive is that in my 22 years [at Oberlin], I have never seen … a grant or program that was supposed to be supporting Oberlin College student mental health and more broadly, the mental health of people in the community here,” Burgdorf said. “It’s generally always one or the other, not both.”

Both Garcia and Burgdorf emphasized that the changes to the mental health landscape at Oberlin have largely been due to the vision that new staff members like Dean Karen Goff and Executive Director of Student Safety and Wellbeing Andrew Oni have brought to campus.

“Dean Goff, for example, wanted SHARE back in [the Office of the Dean of Students],” Burgdorf said. “That’s why I’m over here — because Dean Goff was like, ‘I want students to come in here. I need to understand the kinds of issues and concerns that students are experiencing.’ From my perspective, I thought that was a good sign, you know, like, ‘What’s really going on with our students?’”

Goff hopes to make broader changes to the resources offered at Oberlin.

“My vision for campus mental health on campus is that we shift to an overall wellbeing framework, where mental health is one component of the whole,” Goff wrote in an email to the Review. “I would like to see us as a campus, not just the Counseling Center adopt SAMSHA’s eight dimensions of wellness or a model of similar scope, as a proactive approach towards wellness.”

Despite the expansion of mental health resources on campus, students often remain unaware of the extent of support options available to them.

“I think that students tend to not really know what’s available,” Lopez Toro said. “As a peer mentor, I’m aware of what resources are available because I’m supposed to relay that information to my mentees, but even then there are some things I just don’t know about that are overlooked in terms of our orientation and our training. I was encouraged to go to the Counseling Center by my mentor when I was a mentee. … But for other students that may be struggling, I don’t think they’re aware of the resources that are available.”

Amid the College’s structural adjustment and rough transitions, mental health resources on campus have a handful of stalwart staff members who prioritize student wellbeing above all else.

“I’m not gonna say it’s not a bit much, to teach three classes and do SHARE,” Burgdorf said. “But my philosophy has always been and will always continue to be that every student that finds their way to me, there’s a reason that they found their way to me and someone loves this child deeply — if it’s a parent or grandmother or an aunt or an uncle or whatever. I want to try to be present for them because I would hope that if our roles were reversed, they would do that same thing for my kid.”