Despite the fact that students have advocated for an increase in the number of University Counseling Center (UCC) counselors, the university made the decision on June 30 to lay off a counselor. The announcement of this decision was disheartening for many students, especially those who have expressed a direct need for better access to mental health resources at the university.
According to Vice President Penny Rue, the UCC had a temporary counselor working on a one year contract, which just expired. Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the university is currently in the midst of a campus-wide hiring pause, until they have a better understanding of what staffing will be needed for the Fall 2020 semester.
Rue said she will ensure that students’ mental health is prioritized as the upcoming academic year nears closer.
“I’m very concerned about student mental health in the coming year, and we will continue to assign a very high priority to counseling, prevention, and access to coordinated services,” she said. “Our leadership is tracking carefully how the pandemic is affecting mental health, and how we will need to shift in response to these demands.”
Additionally, Rue stated that an exception to the pause in hiring was granted to allow the university to open the search for the UCC Director. There has been an acting director in place since the Fall of 2019.
“Once a new Director is in place we’ll have an increase in access to counselors, and we’ll have a person dedicated to considering how to best address the campus’ mental health needs in our context,” Rue said.
Nevertheless, students remain disappointed regarding the lack of staff members at the UCC, especially as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact students’ mental health.
“In regards to the UCC, the current situation is unacceptable,” said junior Annie Brigham, incoming Campus Life co-chair for Student Government. “Mental health is of the utmost importance everyday but it is especially vital during these difficult times.”
According to Brigham, following the 2019-2020 school year, the UCC lost six counselors in addition to the vacant director position. These losses make it difficult for students entering a new school year, who will be tasked with finding a new counselor to work with.
“The counselor/client relationship is one of the most important aspects of counselling. The lack of continuity of care is unacceptable,” said Brigham.
To raise awareness of this issue, Brigham started a petition on June 25 on the popular website change.org. The petition presents a list of demands, including rehiring the counselor who was let go on June 30, filling the two vacant positions and hiring more counselors to fully accommodate the needs of students. As of July 14, 525 people have signed the petition.
Brigham is not the only student advocating for an increase in UCC counselors. Former Campus Life co-chair of Student Government senior Jenna Mayer explains that this has been an ongoing struggle.
“I am sad and concerned to see the university decrease mental health resources after working for an entire year to try and advocate for increasing them and do that during such a trying time not only for the Wake Forest community, but the entire world,” Mayer said.
Mayer explained that the university has continued to insist that, since the UCC has more counselors than the average university, there are enough counselors. But Mayer disputes this reasoning.
“Personally I don’t think that it should matter how many counselors we have in comparison to other schools, if there’s a need, there’s a need,” she said. “Wake Forest can be a pressure cooker and mental health resources, especially when we return to campus during a pandemic, is essential.”