The CMHC must diversify staff to meet needs of students of color

Madison Goodrich

Editor’s note: This column was written before the closure of the UT campus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Its content may or may not reflect the current reality of student life on campus. We believe it is important to share this column to shed light on issues around campus and to honor the work of its author.

“The Counseling and Mental Health Center serves UT’s diverse campus community by providing high quality, innovative and culturally informed mental health programs and services that enhance and support students’ well-being, academic and life goals.”

This is the mission statement of the Counseling and Mental Health Center. However, as of March 2020, there are only six diversity counseling and outreach specialists at the CMHC that specifically “provide counseling, support, and outreach for student populations with marginalized and underrepresented identities.”

In 2019, in the 28,436 counseling sessions that the CMHC provided, seven specialists were able to reach about 7,000 students, faculty and staff, about 7,000 of those were attended by students identifying as marginalized or underrepresented minorities. Seven specialists for nearly 7,000 people needing care is an unacceptable ratio.

The CMHC needs to live up to its mission statement by employing more diversity counseling and outreach specialists to serve the thousands of students in need every school year.

Although diversity can be expressed in a number of different ways, representation is an important piece of diversity and inclusion work. Many students of color don’t feel comfortable attending sessions in the CMHC because of the lack of representation within the space.

“I get a little bit of anxiety thinking about having to be in a room that doesn’t necessarily have a Black person that’s treating me,” said Hypatia Sorunke, Plan II and African and African Diaspora studies senior. “I think that what’s really prevented me from going is the lack of diversity in their hires and in their marketing and programming as well. I think any person of color in today’s world wants someone of color to treat them because you see all those misdiagnoses or doctors not taking people (of color) serious(ly).”

Psychology senior Dominique Palmer expressed a similar sentiment.

“I do care about the diversity of people at CMHC, and I do think in many situations it does help to have a counselor who looks like you and who may be able to relate better to what you are talking about,” Palmer said.

Katy Redd, associate director of prevention and outreach at the CHMC, said race should not be the only factor students consider when deciding upon a counselor.

“All of our counselors on our staff are able to work with students of marginalized identities,” Redd said. “Just because we have this diversity of counseling and outreach specialists doesn’t mean that all students of a particular identity can only be seen by one of those counselors. It also doesn’t mean that counselors on our staff not a part of that program don’t identify with one of those identities.”

Although students of color can meet with any counselor, the CMHC needs to consider race when hiring more counselors because students of color deserve to have more counselors who look like them and identify with their experiences. More representation will make students of color feel better about using the CMHC’s resources and enhance their overall experience with the center.

The current hiring process for new counselors currently consists of a wide call for applicants and considers factors such as their experience working with students, their understanding of the college experience, their experience working with diversity, their level of training, their clinical background and more. Although a clinician’s experience “working with diversity” is considered during the hiring process, race is not specifically considered.

If the CMHC wants to live up to their program-wide mission statement and diversity statement, they must diversify their staff and allow for more counselors of color to serve the over 7,000 students of color that are in need of mental health care throughout the school year.

Goodrich is a government and African and African Diaspora Studies senior from Dallas.