By Emily Feldmesser
When Ohio Wesleyan students arrived back on campus after a summer away, many were shocked to hear two counselors, Drs. Colleen Cook and Eric Johnson, had left.
Cook, for former director of Counseling Services at OWU, to be the director of Counseling at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts, and Johnson is now the director of Counseling Services at Colby College in Maine.
The departure of Cook and Johnson left OWU’s Counseling Services office with a need to replace two full-time counselors before the beginning of the semester.
Dr. Charlie Ross retired within the past few years after working for Oberlin College for 20 years. While at Oberlin, Ross was their Counseling Center director and Student Health director. Through Cook, Ross became the interim director of Counseling services for at least one semester, while the administration is searching for a new full-time director.
Ross said his duties include “supervising the staff, guid(ing) the department and help(ing) in the search for a new director.”
Ross said Counseling Services is currently looking for a new director, and that he’s interested in bringing in trainees from Ohio State University’s social work program. He also said he wants “a stable, full-time staff of at least three counselors.”
Currently, there are two full-time counselors, Ross and Julie Duhigg; one half-time counselor, Brian Ward; and two counseling interns, Sarah DelPropost ’07 and Nate Sewell.
“They (Cook and Johnson) are both excellent clinicians, and they were well networked on campus,” Ross said. “They did a lot of things with the athletic department and other organizations. Any time you have two people who have been here for 14 or 15 years walk away, that is an impact.”
Ross’s main focus as interim director is to try to figure out how to give help to everyone who needs it. One method of doing this is referring students to outside clinicians that are located in Delaware.
“People who have been in counseling or some sort of therapy before they came to college, or have been in therapy for a year or two, and they would get set up with a private counselor,” Ross said.
His goal is to have more students access the services relatively quickly, because other students would be seeing private practitioners. This would allow students who need immediate attention or students who don’t need as many sessions to come in to see OWU counselors without a waitlist.
Last semester, students circulated a petition advocating a change in the way counseling at OWU was set up.
In an email sent to the students who signed the petition, senior Jessica Martin said the petition’s head committee, composed of herself, Kamila Goldin ’13 and sophomore Susannah Waxman, met with administrators at the end of the last academic year. But, according to Martin, they “made it very clear that this need for more mental health services was not a priority on our campus.” Martin declined comment on the petition or the changes to Counseling Services.
The petition also said that last semester, 10 percent of the student population were on a waitlist to seek counseling. Ross said the number was around seven percent, which he thinks is “too high.”
“The goal is to operate in such a way that people are moving in here and getting attention in a briefer way,” said Ross.
Goldin said she thinks greater counseling availability has positive effects in many parts of students’ lives.
“Students who feel supported are surely going to much better in school, are going to be able to support other students who need help and are generally going to be much better able to engage with the OWU community,” she said.
Waxman said she thinks the university should consider counseling as central to its mission.
“If this school is truly to stand for the ideals of a liberal arts college, a reevaluation of the standard for student mental health services is vital,” she said.
Sophomore Kristina Wheeler said she thinks resources should be available for those who need them, even if the need is unexpected.
“One can never be sure if or when they might need help, and despite the helpful and welcoming staff, it requires a lot of hard work which a small staff isn’t always equipped for,” she said.