College to eliminate therapist positions



At the end of the fall semester, Washtenaw students will lose a resource they have had access to since 1985 – on-campus psychotherapy from licensed professionals.

Currently, the college has two part-time therapists, Audrey Hering, Ph.D., and  Edwina Jarrett, MSW, LMSW, who are available to students at no extra cost. Students are able to schedule a one-time session, or a standing weekly appointment, and can be directed to outside resources if their needs extend the school’s provisions.

For students like Ellison Matthews, a 26-year-old education major from Ypsilanti, the resource is invaluable. When Matthews’ father was murdered in February 2014, a WCC counselor referred him to Jarrett.

“If it wasn’t for Edwina, I wouldn’t have been as successful as I have been,” Matthews said. “I used to cut. I’ve had therapists and counselors. None of them worked before. She actually cares about us.”

Matthews said that after the tragedy, he was able to build a bond with Jarrett that helped him get through school.

“She isn’t like a typical therapist. She keeps it real,” he said. “She allows me to express myself.”

Although Jarrett will remain at the college as a part-time adviser, Hering is leaving.

Neither of the women was able to speak with The Voice. John Rinke, Director of Support Services declined an interview as well.

The therapist positions are being cut in the midst of many changes in the Counseling and Career Planning department.

A year ago, the faculty asked President Rose Bellanca to replace three academic division counselors that the college had lost to retirement, Maryam Barrie, president of the WCC Education Association, said at a board of trustees meeting earlier this fall. Instead, the college moved three of five existing counselors from the Counseling and Career Planning department to the divisions.

“At the time, the WCCEA urged the college to reconsider its policy of replacing full-time licensed counselors with academic advisors,” Barrie said, and the faculty’s concerns only grew when they learned the school planned to eliminate the therapist positions. “Many question the wisdom of eliminating a service to some of our most at-risk students,” Barrie said.

The college seems to be committed to “changing the face of counseling” to a place that deals with academic advising, rather than emotional support, Barrie said.

“While advisors can be hired more inexpensively than counselors, our students face a great many obstacles – external and internal,” she said.

Later in the board meeting, Bellanca addressed Barrie’s concerns, explaining to those in attendance and the trustees that there are actually 19 licensed professional counselors (LPCs) at WCC, not only five.

This is true, there are 19 LPCs at WCC, however only five of them work in counseling capacities. The rest work as staff in other areas of the college and do not provide counseling to students, English instructor Julie Kissel explained in a letter to the trustees which listed all 19 LPCs and their job titles.

“As faculty, we are concerned about the level of support available to our students. From our view, we see cuts and gaps in services,” Kissel wrote. “I urge you to request a more in-depth analysis of the college’s movement away from providing much-needed counseling services to our students.”

In addition to these changes, the Counseling department is merging with the Student Resource and Women’s Center. This move will enhance the student experience by providing a central place for counseling resources on campus, Vice President of Student Services Linda Blakey wrote in an email to faculty and staff.

The college is also hiring a new international adviser, one who is not qualified for the role, Barrie said at a November board meeting.

“The next international adviser will be available more days of the year, get paid substantially less than the last one, and will have much lower credentials for the position than her predecessors,” she said. “This adviser most definitely will not be an additional LPC available to work with our troubled students.”

Juan Moncayo, a 22-year-old international student said that having an LPC available specifically for international students is crucial.

“As an international student, I can’t go anywhere else. It’s a good resource, not just for me, but for more people like me,” Moncayo, a graphic design student who resides in Ypsilanti, said, explaining that international students aren’t able to work outside of the school while in the country on a student visa, making it difficult, if not impossible to afford outside counseling.

The structure of counseling is changing because the current model wasn’t working, Blakey said, adding, “It’s important for us to serve our students.”

David Matthews, a 20-year-old pre-physical therapy student from South Lyon, agrees with the decision and said that he doesn’t believe the school should be obligated to provide this service.

“In college, students should be more mature to seek outside help,” he said.

However, it is fairly common for colleges to house therapists on campus to help students at no extra cost. Both Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan employ therapists to offer short-term psychotherapy – the same model offered at WCC before the changes.

At Washtenaw, counselors and advisers will still be available to help students with academic issues, but for more serious, emotional issues, they will direct students to resources in the community.

The needs of students at WCC are diverse becuase they come from many different paths, said Lawrence Voight, a part-time psychology teacher.

“I do believe (not all), but a number of our students are vulnerable,” he said. “There’s a peace of mind knowing there’s competent accessible help.”

For Melissa Smith, a 46-year-old social work student from Ypsilanti, the therapists have been instrumental in helping her to get through school. She has been seeing a therapist on campus for several semesters.

“They’ve encouraged me to continue my education,” she said. “I never thought I’d have the grades or be able to pursue my education.”

Sarina Anderson, a 19-year-old nursing student from Belleville said that she does not feel comfortable talking to a counselor or adviser for needs beyond course advising.

“I would rather see someone trained in dealing with emotions and personal issues,” she said.

And for Matthews, there is no replacing the woman who helped him cope with his father’s murder, and hearing that Jarrett’s position was being eliminated was frustrating.

“It broke my heart when she told me the news. I felt like my campus mom – or aunt – was being taken away,” he said, adding that he wished the students who visit the therapists had been consulted on this decision. “We (students) are the campus. If it wasn’t for us, the staff wouldn’t have a job. If we don’t have a voice, why are we here?”

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