medium_SCRA_logomark_4col.jpg

The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 53   Number 3 Summer 2020

Prevention and Promotion

Edited by Susana Helm, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

The Prevention & Promotion (P&P) IG column of The Community Psychologist highlights P&P resources as well as the P&P work of community psychologist and allied professionals. We invite submissions from SCRA members, from people who present on P&P topics during SCRA and other conferences; and from leading and emergent scholars, including students. Please refer your colleagues and friends in academia and beyond to our interest group and column. Please email me if you would like to submit a brief report or if you have resources we may list here.

Mahalo to Crystal Steltenpohl from the University of Southern Indiana for celebrating on the SCRA listserv last November 2019 about the work of her CP undergrads. In my role as column editor, I inquired about her interest in submitting a co-authored piece with her students to share more about the evolution of their mental health promotion project, as well as their reflections on the experience.

Prevention & Promotion IG Co-Chairs:  Toshi Sasao, Kayla DeCant, Susana Helm.

Advocating for Mental Health Resources on Campus

Written by Claire Ellis, Riley Laffoon, and Dr. Crystal N. Steltenpohl, University of Southern Indiana

Community Psychology Undergraduate Course. As undergraduates, enrolling in the introductory “Community Psychology” (CP) course can lead to meaningful action around issues we care about. The University of Southern Indiana (USI) has been hosting townhalls where we can ask questions of our administration, in response to discussions that faculty, staff, and students have wanted around the university’s future. Our class attended a townhall in October 2019 with our Vice-President of Finance. Several of us asked questions about topics like housing and financial aid. We learned a lot about how universities operate from attending the townhall and by talking about it as a class afterward. Many students, especially those of us who are psychology majors, have been concerned about the difficulty students have had in accessing mental health resources on campus. Around 35% of full-time students have at least one common lifetime mental health disorder (Auerbach et al., 2018). Mental health outcomes are one of the many factors related to student retention (e.g. O’Keeffe, 2013), and several students in our class know at least one person who dropped out of USIfor mental health reasons. Our Counseling Center has been working hard to alleviate these issues - offering a variety of group therapy sessions and reorganizing intake procedures. Still, there is a lot of demand, and USI has been slow to provide the Counseling Center with appropriate resources to tackle these issues head on.

Midwest Eco Conference. In October 2019, our CP professor, Dr. Steltenpohl, obtained funding from our College of Liberal Arts and the Provost’s Office to bring seven of us to the Midwest Eco Conference (MEC) at National Louis University in Chicago. The conference theme was “Strengthening the Village: The Global Implications of Social Solidarity.” Our student-faculty group led a session called “Understanding Community Psychology at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions,” where we related what we were learning about CP to our experiences at a small school in southwestern Indiana (see Figure 1). We also attended several sessions on our own, e.g. citizen participation, grassroots community interventions, and the sharing of power. We were inspired by the conversations during these sessions and at the post-conference celebration. We had not seen research and advocacy come together in the ways we saw at the conference before, and it was fascinating to see the possibilities available to us, if we chose to explore them. On the drive back from MEC (7-hour carpool), we discussed mental health and the long wait times at our Counseling Center, which at times would reach four to six weeks. Our frustration turned to motivation once we considered how a community psychologist might approach the issue. We asked ourselves how we could address our community’s needs. The Counseling Center’s long wait times could be remedied, in part, by the addition of more staff, specifically more counselors, which would provide more capacity. However, convincing the administration to make these changes seemed to be a lofty goal. We eventually reached the conclusion that we needed to show the administration that we had both research and people backing the cause. 

Mental Health Advocacy. We proposed a group advocacy project to Dr. Steltenpohl instead of writing individual final papers. We offered to complete an action and write a group report highlighting our research and suggested solutions. Dr. Steltenpohl thought it was a great idea and suggested we pitch the idea to our classmates, though students who preferred to do the individual paper would be allowed to do so. Ultimately, eight students opted to do the group advocacy project, including two students who did not attend MEC. We immediately went to work on our final project, making posters and social media posts, researching the topic, and asking people to join our cause (see Figure 2). Dr. Steltenpohl urged us to consider various stakeholders on campus, so we spoke to other students, faculty, the Dean of Students, and Counseling Center staff. Most of us were new to almost everything involved in this ambitious plan, but together, we had the skills to pull it off. It was cold on November 13 – the date of our campus social action event, but we walked around the campus with students in our class and others who believed in our cause. A student in last year’s CP class brought his megaphone, which we used while outdoors. Our student newspaper, The Shield, interviewed people at the march and one of their photographers walked with us for a while to capture important moments (refer to article for photos). Near the end of the walk, we entered the administration building where we had a brief conversation with the Provost. We then hosted a sit-in at the library, where we gave a short speech about our fight for more mental health resources at USI. 

After the mental health advocacy walk, we attended another townhall, this time with our Vice President for Student Affairs. We sat together in a row in the middle of the auditorium and asked about the university’s strategies for helping our Counseling Center. We were a bit frustrated that one of the responses was that USI “can’t give everyone a personal counselor,” which was an exaggeration of our request. Dr. Steltenpohl later told us about the positive responses she got from SCRA members and faculty on our campus regarding our advocacy. A few days after the townhall, we met with the USI President, who had invited the VPs of Finance and Student Affairs. We made our concerns known and got the same answer that students have always gotten: there is not enough money in the budget. The university administrators also seemed confused as to why we were coming to them. When we explained that they had the power to make change on our campus, they seemed surprised we understood that.

Reflections. Since our actions during the Fall 2019 semester, discussions around mental health resources have come up numerous times in other townhalls and the student newspaper has published news and opinion pieces on mental health on campus. We hope we can continue to work on these issues and push for more resources to support our Counseling Center.

Claire Ellis, BA 2020 (Expected).From the first day of this class, I knew this type of work interested me. However, I was hesitant because the world just had too many problems. I could never fix all of them, so why even try? Then I went to Midwest Eco. I did not need to solve all the world’s problems; other, more qualified people are working on all kinds of issues all around the world, ways to better humanity I had not even considered. I had been far too self-centered. I decided to put my efforts to a few causes that were most important to me, putting my trust in others to share the burden of trying to make the world a little bit better. Throughout the semester, Dr. Steltenpohl expressed that she wants to leave the world better than how she found it. Even though I have learned more than I could express in this short essay, this is the idea that means the most to me, the one I will carry with me for life. 

Riley Laffoon, BA 2020 (Expected).Coming into this class, I had little knowledge about CP. My interests were mainly in clinical work, so learning about and working with whole communities was new and interesting to me. I had interest in advocacy, but lacked confidence. Throughout this course, I grew not only academically, but also personally. I learned how CP works and its importance when advocating for change. Attending the townhalls and having the opportunity to meet with the university President, CFO, and VP of Student Affairs allowed me to see my voice matters in this university and I can make a difference. Through the counseling center advocacy project, I gained confidence in speaking up for what I believe in and fighting for higher-level changes. This experience not only sparked my interest in furthering advocacy work, but allowed me to see my potential as an advocate. I am thankful for the valuable experiences I have gained, and I am confident that the qualities and knowledge I obtained from this course will allow me to prosper in my academic life and beyond. 

Crystal Steltenpohl. Faculty. This was an amazing class to teach. I struggle with how much I should encourage students to engage in advocacy. I think it is important for everyone to contribute to their communities in meaningful ways; however, I often worry forcing students to engage in advocacy can have negative consequences, particularly for the affected communities. This was a best-case scenario! I credit my students’ success not only to their own abilities and traits, but to the open access textbook which allowed students to access course material from day one (Jason, Glantsman, O’Brien & Ramian, 2019), and the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere at Midwest Eco. For most, if not all my students, this was their first conference, and seeing them engaging in deep conversations about my field—and then taking it home to enact change—filled my heart in ways I still can’t describe. Thank you, to my students and to the community psychologists who engaged with them during and after the conference.

Dr. Crystal N. Steltenpohl (cnsteltenp@usi.edu), University of Southern Indiana

References

Auerbach, R. P., Mortier, P., Bruffaerts, R., Alonso, J., Benjet, C., Cuijpers, P., ... & Murray, E. (2018). WHO World Mental Health Surveys International College Student Project: prevalence and distribution of mental disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(7), 623-638. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000362 

Jason, L.A., Glantsman, O., O’Brien, J.F., & Ramian, K.N. (Ed.). (2019). Introduction to Community Psychology. Rebus Pressbooks. https://press.rebus.community/introductiontocommunitypsychology/ 

O’Keeffe, P. (2013). A sense of belonging: Improving student retention. College Student Journal 47(4). 605-613.

Figure 1. Midwest Eco Group (Pictured left to right: Claire Ellis, Caleb Kamplain, Favene Billa, Crystal Steltenpohl, Mia Jackson, Bradie Gray, Amanda Smock, Sarah Martin).

 

Figure 2. Poster