Over the course of the past few years, Agnes Scott’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), a part of the Wellness Center, has undergone extensive changes that have threatened the care provided to students. Many students, especially those who feel marginalized by CAPS, utilize another community resource.
“I have had five different counselors over the course of just one year,” said one student.
Dr. Michelle Hamm, the Wellness Center director, admits that there has been a lot of turnover lately. She has only been here since March, but she believes that this complete administration replacement has made the center more stable since they all have a mutual understanding from arriving at Agnes together. Additionally, two therapists now are women of color.
Hamm admits that she “can’t predict life circumstances,” so there is no definite answer as to why the therapists who work at the Wellness Center have circulated at such a high frequency and whether this will continue to happen.
The Wellness Center is a free service open Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 4:30 and insurance is not billed for sessions. According to Hamm, there are appointment plans devised between a therapist and the client in their first meeting so that the client can be involved in planning out the number of sessions they need.
In terms of confidentiality, if a student is worried about their parents finding out about their therapy sessions, Hamm maintains that “Nothing is released to anyone.”
All therapists are required to go through updated sensitivity training every two years that includes cultural diversity. Counselors start out meetings asking about preferred pronouns and attempting to discuss the importance of adhering to an individual’s chosen gender pronouns with faculty whenever presented with an opportunity.
Some of the newest members of the center allegedly have been a source of danger for many students, particularly the psychiatrist who is available once a week.
“She didn’t tell me about any of the side effects I would have or what to do in case of an emergency,” said Jordan Keesler ‘20.
Meanwhile, often those who suffer from chronic illness can find CAPS and the general Wellness Center to be an added stressor.
“The only parts of the Wellness Center I find valuable are the dogs and the chiropractor,” said Brittany Gilliland ‘18.
Hamm asserts that the Wellness Center does try to accommodate everyone for therapy, but in cases where the issue is outside of their expertise, they will refer a client to at least three vetted sources with which they are familiar.
For those who are curious about how a therapy session might go at the Wellness Center, Hamm says, “We don’t give advice… this is a no-judgment zone. This is not about fixing people.”
When controversial acts of violence become breaking news, particularly acts toward people of color or LGBTQ+ folk, the Wellness Center offers additional walk-in hours. They understand that in this time, not everyone wants therapy but instead other forms of support.
A recent example was on Sept. 18, 2017, when Scout Schultz, an intersex student at Georgia Tech (GT) who went by they/them pronouns, completed what has been referred to as “suicide by cop” when they reportedly called GT’s Campus Police about a student wielding a knife that would later turn out to be Schultz themselves. Ultimately, Schultz’s depression ended in suicide.
“One thing we will never do is pathologize grief,” said Hamm, meaning they do not treat the feeling as if it needs to be cured.
The other source that students should be able to trust in such situations is ASC Public Safety. However, if faced with the same situation as Georgia Tech, it is unclear if the officers would be prepared.
“We do not carry tasers,” said Henry Hope, Director of Public Safety. “There’s no reason for or against it.”
However, officers go through twenty hours of community policing and de-escalation training each year.
“Community policing gets at the intimate level of the people we serve and develops a positive relationship to where people are more comfortable engaging with the police,” said Hope.
The Center for Global Diversity and Inclusion has a similar philosophy of providing for the community, particularly for students facing systemic oppressions.
“We [the staff at the center] are very open about taking care of ourselves and there is no shame or stigma around mental health,” said Kristian Contreras, Director of Diversity Programs. “We see needs and accommodations as normative.”
Examples mentioned included meditation, breathing breaks and check-ins every few hours at longer retreats and conferences. She emphasized that “everyone in the office makes it possible” and that “students in the office are equally invested and teach us when we’re being ableist.”