UC Berkeley Counseling and Psychological Services receives wellness grant to serve Black students

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UC Berkeley’s Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, received a wellness grant in fall 2019 to more effectively address Black mental health needs on campus, with hopes of continuing the effort through a new grant in May.

Three Black-identified counselors at CAPS — Adisa Anderson, Geneé Jackson and Amber Jaiza Jones — submitted a proposal for wellness funds in October 2019 and received funding in January. Currently, there are four permanent Black-identified counselors at CAPS, but their interface with Black students is limited, according to University Health Services spokesperson Tami Cate. The two grants aim to expand counselors’ outreach work and create new programs to meet the needs of Black students.

“Fundamentally, our goal is to strengthen the holistic wellness of (Black and African American) students through centering the uniqueness of their mental health needs and ultimately supporting (Black and African American) student retention and graduation,” the grant proposals state.

Recently, CAPS witnessed an increase in its utilization. Over the 2018-19 school year, CAPS saw about 17% of the campus student population, which is a 31% increase from five years earlier, according to Cate.

Of the students that use CAPS, approximately 6% are Blackidentified, with Black students comprising about 3.6% of the total student population, according to the UC Berkeley Office of Planning and Analysis.

“Even though CAPS is seeing Black students in numbers greater than their representation on campus, we know there is more we can do to support our Black students who experience marginalization and isolation on our campus,” Cate said in an email.

The four Black-identified counselors at CAPS were hired with general campus funding and are therefore tasked with serving all students seeking help, according to the grant submissions. Coupled with the high utilization of CAPS, these counselors are not able to fully provide outreach and develop programs specifically for Black students.

When Black students request to meet with a Black-identified counselor, there can be longer wait times because of the limited number of Black-identified counselors on the CAPS staff, according to Cate. When Black students ask to meet with a community mental health provider, the few Black community therapists on the Student Health Insurance Plan panel often have full workloads as well.

It was from this overload that Anderson, Jackson and Jones recognized the need for more interface with Black students and the importance of understanding the community dynamic to better help Black students, according to ASUC Senator Nicole Anyanwu, who co-sponsored the grant.

This culminated in their first wellness grant submission, which articulates the “tokenism” of the Black-identified counselors at CAPS. The funding they received will be used to expand the outreach work of Black-identified counselors and create programs specific to the Black community this spring.

“A lot of students at Cal do feel as if they go through a lot of different constraints that at times is very much exacerbated by their backgrounds,” Anyanwu said. “It’s just good to have that connection with somebody who will understand the complexity of your experience and how it feels to navigate not only Cal but the world as a Black person or a marginalized person.”

The funding initiatives will be carried out by Anderson, Jackson and Jones, and program activities will be supervised by Susan Bell, assistant director of outreach and consultation services at CAPS, according to the grant proposals.

Anderson, Jackson, Jones and Anyanwu have brainstormed ideas for outreach events to take place in the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center to reach more Black students, according to Anyanwu. These outreach events have yet to take place.

“They have knowledge about what it’s like to be a Black person,” Anyanwu said. “They can even connect to a student on a personal level and help with building that trust.”

Partnerships are also intended to be forged between the counselors on the project and a multitude of academic departments to strengthen work relationships and create a supportive environment for Black students, according to the grant proposals.

In January, a second wellness grant request was submitted, emphasizing the same goals as the first and looking into possibly hiring more diversified staff at the Tang Center in the future, according to Anyanwu.

The results of this grant proposal will be released by May.

“Our hope is that by January 2021, campus initiatives for addressing the mental health needs of Black students will be more specific, space for a wellness center will be allocated, and longer-term staffing needs will be clarified,” the grant proposals said.

Contact Maxine Mouly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @moulymaxine.