For several years, members of the College’s psychological counseling services have hoped to hire a minority counselor; this year, as a result of a student-driven initiative, the proposal has once again come under serious discussion. Psych services senior staff members have been in contact with several interested student groups and will review the petition to hire a minority counselor within the next two weeks.
Last week, the Committee on Undergraduate Life invited psych services staff to discuss the general counseling needs of the student body. Margaret Wood, co-director of psych services, said that the need for another counselor has increased, as has the demand for clinical services. Given the push from students and the long-running interest of staff, the drive to fill the position with a counselor who specializes in the needs of minority students has earned particular prominence on the agenda.
“We are committed to eliminating barriers and stigma surrounding counseling for any students who may experience them in any way,” Wood said, adding that a minority counselor would not serve exclusively as a resource for students of color. “One of the main premises behind the philosophy and pedagogy of multicultural counseling is the idea that counselors from one culture, with sensitivity and training, have the ability to work with clients of other races and cultures,” she said.
While Health Center statistics indicate the percentage of students of color utilizing psych services is the same as the percentage of white students, several outreach efforts have led administrators to consider the creation of a minority counselor position to be a top priority.
Nordia Savage ’10, who wrote the formal petition, emphasized the strong need for students, many of whom had to work past an initial reticence to seek counseling due to a perceived stigma, to meet with a counselor they felt truly understood their background. According to the petition, when a student manages to seek counseling and manifests a clear desire to connect with their counselor, a mismatch denies them a service that is provided to help improve the lives of all students at the College. “As Williams moves to be a more diverse and inclusive campus, [there should be] personnel to reflect that change as well,” Savage said.
Past discussions have brought the same issue to the forefront of conversation, but efforts to hire a minority counselor have not come to fruition. In January 2009, psych services hosted a conference titled “Counseling Diverse Students,” which included a panel of students of color (the majority of which were from Williams) discussing the subject “Barriers to Counseling.” Several students on the panel articulated opinions that the presence of a minority counselor at the College would be important both in terms of their personal counseling experience as well as for symbolic value.
In 2008, the College approved the position of minority counselor on a half-time basis, but psych services was then prevented from filling the position as a result of the hiring freeze enacted in response to the economic crisis and the resulting losses incurred by the College’s endowment. A previous search in 2005 also focused on filling the position with a counselor of color, but many of the final candidates dropped out due to geographical concerns.