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Newly-elected SU Diversity and Inclusion Chair continues to work with mental health services
Freshman Nkemjika Emenike was elected as Student Union Senate’s Diversity and Inclusion chair Jan. 28. In the role, she plans to continue her projects within the Health and Wellness committee, which is currently collecting student feedback on the Habif Health and Wellness Center’s mental health services.
Emenike was elected internally after former Diversity and Inclusion chair, junior Allyson Hollie, stepped down from her role this semester. Emenike previously served as Senate Chief of Staff and is a current member of the Health and Wellness committee.
To keep with Emenike’s goal, a survey was sent out last week and posted in class Facebook groups to gather student opinion on the University’s mental health services.
The idea for the survey emerged when Dr. Tom Brounk, the Director for Mental Health Services at Habif, approached Emenike and SU Senator junior Sophie Scott and told them that Habif wanted to gather student feedback before making plans to reform the process of initial contact between students and mental health professionals.
The current process requires students to schedule an appointment over the phone, with a typical wait time of three to five days, before they are allowed to schedule an in-person appointment. This process often results in a wait time of two to three weeks between a student’s initial outreach to Habif and that student receiving mental health resources. The survey asks what students feel is the optimal wait time and proposes a 30-40 minute in-person consultation that would replace the first phone appointment.
While reading through the initial student feedback, Emenike found several other useful suggestions from students.
“They want more counselors of marginalized identities,” Emenike said. “They want more counselors who understand the marginalized identities they hold, even if they don’t hold them themselves, which I fully agree with and I fully want to advocate for.”
Emenike acknowledged the potential financial strain of hiring additional staff members on the University’s end, but stood firm in the significance of the endeavor to improve the efficacy of campus mental health services.
“At the end of the day, this is a health issue,” Emenike said. “This is a health crisis. I think it’s important that students feel comfortable when they go into the health center, that they feel like they don’t have to wait a long time, that they are meeting with someone who understands the issues and they don’t have to explain why they feel the way they feel because a lot of times that’s an emotional burden in and of itself.”
Sophomore Gaby Smith, who serves as the chair of Senate’s Health and Wellness committee and worked with Emenike last semester, spoke highly of Emenike’s previous work and is optimistic for her future in Senate.
“I’m really excited to see [Emenike] continuing to work on this health and wellness project with Dr. Brounk as well as stepping up into the role of diversity and inclusion chair where I know she’s going to do a great job,” Smith said.
Emenike’s first meeting with the committee as chair will take place today. In the long term, she hopes to hone in on a few meaningful projects instead of taking on too many surface-level projects at once, and continue to prioritize Hollie’s goal of improving communication between SU and the student body.
“Better communication between the student body, especially those who… hold marginalized identities, and Student Union as a whole would be really important, especially [in] Senate because… our job is to advocate for the students and we can’t accurately advocate for the students if there are other voices that aren’t being as heard as other voices,” Emenike said.
According to Brounk, roughly 600 hours of staff time per year is spent on over the phone appointments, which take around 15 minutes each. Replacing the phone appointments with longer in-person appointments would be designed to provide a better experience for students by allowing the student and counselor to create a more effective plan going forward.
“It’s always a good idea to get feedback on suggested improvements and proposed system changes from the students we want to better help,” Brounk wrote in a statement to Student Life. “Student Union has been a great advocate for the mental health needs of students. Working with the Senate to get student feedback on this proposed change makes good sense and we appreciate and value the partnership.”
With Emenike continuing projects related to Health and Wellness while also serving as Diversity and Inclusion chair, Smith is open to future collaborations with other committees. Within her role, Smith’s team has collaborated with the Academic Affairs committee while working to implement a transcript notation for medical leaves of absence and is part of an ongoing effort to extend the course add/drop period to mollify the effects of academic stress on mental health.
“With Diversity and Inclusion, we continuously spoke about intersectionality, specifically with mental health, and how mental health has tremendous intersectionality with identity and how marginalized communities face even more barriers to accessing mental health,” Smith said. “And I think with Nkemjika in the Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair role, especially as someone who has both interest in diversity and inclusion and health and wellness…working with her will make it even easier for us to come up with combined projects.”