Addressing Mental Health on College CampusesMarch 29, 2023
0:00:08.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Hello, and welcome to Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Talent, the podcast about work and learning after high school. Brought to you by Lumina Foundation. I’m your host, Dakota Pawlicki. And today, we’re digging into mental health and wellbeing on college campuses. A recent survey of 131 institutions shines further national attention on the importance of providing mental health supports on college and university campuses. 72% of the college leaders that were surveyed in the report reported that mental health has worsened during the past year. And while support and wellness programs have grown, one in five campuses still say they’re unable to keep up with student demand for mental health services. To help us better understand the growing need for mental health and wellbeing supports, we’ve invited national leaders from NASPA and Uwill, who can shed light on their new report. Later in the show, we’re going to head to Texas. We’re going to hear about a new statewide cohort of 10 institutions working together to learn and test new ideas. And finally, we’re going to talk with two institutions from that cohort who are taking action to better support students, staff, and faculty through a variety of mental health supports. But let’s first get started with my conversation with David Arnold, the Assistant Vice President for Health, safety and Wellbeing at NASPA. And Michael London, the CEO of Uwill, who are going to shed some light on their new survey.
0:01:36.9 Dakota Pawlicki: Hey everyone. To help us understand the current state of mental health on campuses around the country, I’m now joined by David Arnold, the Assistant Vice President for Health, safety, and Wellbeing at NASPA. And Michael London, the CEO of Uwill. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me today. Michael, I want start with you first. You, have partnered with David and your great organizations to release a survey, and you’ve just recently released all the findings from that survey, looking at mental health, around college campuses. Can you just give us a high-level overview, what was that survey like? What was that project?
0:02:18.6 Michael London: Yes, thank you so much. So, we together surveyed student affairs leaders, from colleges and universities from throughout the country that represented greater than 150,000 students in total, which was a pretty large sample size. And from that research, there was a clear picture that student mental health continues to decline and the fact that colleges are definitely challenged to support students in that manner and their wellness needs.
0:02:50.5 Dakota Pawlicki: I’d love to get into some of the key findings. I mean, there’s a lot that in the report. It’s a really great report that obviously we have in our show notes. What major findings stuck out to you, as you got into the work?
0:03:02.8 Michael London: Well, for us, some of the things we thought we would find, and some of the things we didn’t truly know to what extent we would find that hypothesis. That said, I think number one was that the majority felt that student mental health has declined over the last five years. The fact that the majority of college presidents, in particular, agree that it’s their… A leading priority, if not the number one priority, with a lot of room to improve in this area. And then finally, there’s a lot less stigma associated with students receiving mental health. And I thought that that was a positive overall. Of course, it presents challenges, just the fact that people were significantly more comfortable speaking about their mental health and seeking help, of course that puts pressure on resources, and I’m sure that’ll come out in a later conversation.
0:04:01.4 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, absolutely. David, I think it’s a good time to bring you in as well to the conversation. NASPA being an association of professionals in higher education that, work directly with students and in student affairs, I guess as you were reviewing the kind of the key findings of some of the survey work, how well does it match what you’ve been hearing from members of NASPA for a while?
0:04:26.1 David Arnold: It actually lined up really, really nice. So, I was really ecstatic to be able to complete this survey, to be able to get some data from our administrators, because administrators drive where resources end up going on campus. So, if we don’t have an understanding of how they perceive the student mental health crisis that we’re all going through, that we might not be able to direct interventions the best way possible. And so, one of the things that we looked at was resource allocations. And two-thirds of folks who responded to the surveys that they had increased their resource allocations around mental health, with 85% of respondents saying that they were still further down the road they anticipated going as an institution. And that’s really important for us as we sort of direct professional development for these members, as we think about what tools and resources exist within the ed tech space, what can we do to help supplement existing interventions on college campuses for student mental health, and what is the need or market for an additional intervention service?
0:05:24.0 David Arnold: And so, when we look at those increases that folks had made, we gave folks a chance to provide some qualitative responses around what increases had been made. And an overwhelming majority of the folks who had provided qualitative data told us that they had invested in the telehealth space, to provide services either 24/7 or provide services as an auxiliary of existing in-person interventions to be able to be provided at the teletherapy level.
0:05:53.9 Dakota Pawlicki: And teletherapy these days, yeah, it’s like telecom, right? That word isn’t really very 21st century. Describe a little bit more about what telehealth looks like on college campuses these days.
0:06:05.8 David Arnold: Yeah. Telehealth is… I mean, obviously I would like Michael to chime in here as well, but telehealth is the ability to provide services for an individual who is remotely connecting to a provider of services, typically a licensed professional. And so, when we think about it in the physical health space, that’s like a Teladoc visit. When we think about it in the mental health space, it’s everything from case management all up through psychotherapy, long-lasting interventions that happen over Zoom call just like this.
0:06:37.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, it’s probably a good time to… Michael, Uwill is the leading online mental health and wellness solution for students. I’m sure operating this space… Tell us a little bit about what Uwill has been doing to help provide additional mental health services and extend the capacity of institutions.
0:06:56.1 Michael London: Thank you. So, in particular, we have developed an environment that allows for a school to use us in the way they see fit. So, within our environment, there are different components that schools can take advantage of to complement the good work that they’re doing on their campuses. So firstly, it would… The first component would be an immediate appointment with a licensed therapist based upon the student’s needs and preferences and associated therapy. The second component would be a direct connection to a licensed therapist trained in trauma for if students are in more of an urgent situation. And by the way, when I say that, I mean, the person, the licensed therapist trained in trauma answers the phone and says, hello. And then finally, we offer wellness programming to either complement therapy or, of course, to be instead of therapy for those students that prefer feeling better in that manner. So, to us, that’s how we see teletherapy. We don’t… We try not to oversimplify it and just think of it as, oh, it’s just getting therapy over the phone or Zoom or… Just because we think there’s so much more we can do in that area, using technology as a driver, and so we’re working hard to collaborate with campuses and be the solution that they want us to be. And our technology facilitates that, and students are able to get the help they need when they need it.
0:08:27.5 Dakota Pawlicki: That’s so helpful. One of the other findings that came out of this survey here, it talks about one of the greatest challenges. When asked what the greatest challenge was related to campus mental health, 43% of respondents cited an increase in the severity of mental health issues. So, I guess at one level are… Do you see interventions like telehealth, and kind of extending the offerings that can be provided at a campus level as a means to address that level of severity? In other words, is telehealth sufficient enough of an intervention to meet the increased level of severity when it comes to mental health issues?
0:09:13.8 David Arnold: So, Dakota, I’m really glad that you brought up severity because it was a big finding out of our survey. And yes, when you look at other resources that have been developed, I’ll go all the way back to the Higher Education Mental Health Alliances, Distance Counseling Guide, which was really fortuitously developed before the pandemic. We can look back as far as that to look at answers to the question around can and does this work to increase capacity around severity? And it does, because what it creates for us is additional capacities at a clinical level that can be deployed for students as well as, as Michael pointed out, some non-clinical level interventions that are appropriate. And we see those being deployed on campuses as well to free up the specialized resources for an in-person therapist to also take a look at severity. And so, when we look at the concerning or the driving factor around severity of diagnosed mental health conditions as being a thing that’s on administrator’s minds, we know that the deployment of interventions, including a teletherapy model, can help free up resources for those high-level needs students to be able to see someone who can be most helpful and most direct with them both in person and online.
0:10:25.4 Dakota Pawlicki: I guess I’m also curious too about some of the other findings that you’ve had on the survey, in particular looking at the things that might be causing the increase of severity of mental health challenges experienced by students and faculty. What are some of the findings from your survey coming out of those root causes?
0:10:45.8 David Arnold: Yeah, so we asked administrators to identify what root causes they had said were the leading indicators of emotional distress for college students. And they indicated that financial concerns were the top driver of this, followed by personal and familial issues, diagnosed mental health conditions, and then finally academic stressors. And this falls in line with some of what we’re seeing in the student survey space. If I look at the college poll survey, for example, famously in 2020, financial concerns had risen above other familial and personal concerns. And sometimes, we lump all this together. So, I think about the work of Lumina and Gallup, who recently had some survey data around mental health and said emotional stress was the leading cause of concern. But then college affordability was also listed. So, college affordability is very different than being able to assess financial stressors. It’s just about straight tuition dollars. And so, I think that as a field, what administrators are telling us on this survey is that we need to have a better understanding of where financial drivers enter into student’s fulfillment of basic needs, safety and security, and then ultimately being able to provide them with the sort of stable support that they need to live happy, healthy, and mentally healthy lives.
0:12:08.7 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, I mean… And that’s the part of the conversation I know that we’re having across the field, is there are so many… There’s a lot of contributing factors to mental health at an individual level, at a community level, a family level. And I think there was a lot of people that asked the question like, are colleges really on the hook for this? Is it really the responsibility of your community college, of your university that your attending, to address mental health issues? Or, are we creating another tapestry of band-aid solutions? Curious to get your thoughts.
0:12:45.9 Michael London: So, as you well know, there’s been a lot of research on that subject in particular. But I tend to have an opinion that schools are responsible to do two things. One is to educate students. And education, obviously, there’s a lot of debate as to what education is and what’s good education, and whether it should be more career-oriented, but regardless, they have to educate. And second, they have to keep people safe. And so, for me, it’s hard not to think of mental health and safety as one and the same. And so, I think schools today have no choice but to prioritize this issue and truly feel it’s a not just a responsibility, but maybe a top priority. And, you see… Sadly, we read about schools that have their challenges associated with mental health.
0:13:38.8 Michael London: And that’s sometimes… First of all, a lot of times there’s nothing that the school could have ever done, but of course it feels like, oh, that’s too late. They wish that they did more. And so, that is in, in my opinion, and the survey does support this to some extent, people are going to be focusing more resources in this area and figuring out, to David’s point, how to get better leverage on people time on the campus, as well as ways to make sure that people who have minor challenges do not eventually deal with things that are more severe.
0:14:15.1 David Arnold: Dakota, I want echo, and because a lot of what Michael said resonates with me, and this question, in fact has been a really, really interesting philosophical journey that I’ve been on, ’cause one of the challenges I have is that frequently when I talk to college presidents or vice presidents for student affairs and they say we just need to hire more counselors, that’s a really hard thing for me to grapple with because it’s not like there’s a vending machine down the street that’s waiting for a dollar to be put in and a qualified counselor just pops out. Typically, when you recruit a counselor, especially for a rural community, you’re taking that mental health therapist from the community and reducing the scope of their impact by making them only serve college students. And so, I do think that this needs to be part of a larger public health conversation. But philosophically, do colleges and universities have a responsibility to provide mental health services?
0:15:02.9 David Arnold: I think college and universities have a responsibility to their missions. Their mission is to create a more educated and diverse workforce, or to make global citizens. And in order to do that, there are a certain number of wraparound services that are necessary. That’s why we have dining halls and residence halls, and that’s why we have mental health services that are available because there are conditions unique to the college experience that creates stress that needs to be mitigated. So, anything that a college or university’s culture creates also needs some sort of intervention to mitigate some of the negative outcomes associated with it. I think that this, this question has been also debated for the past almost 50 years around college alcohol prevention. Is it really a college’s job to prevent binge drinking? Well, if your college creates binge drinking, yes, it must also ameliorate that problem.
0:15:54.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, I appreciate that. It’s a… You have to examine the role of yourself, your own institution, your own organization, a lot in the context of… In the full context of the context of, not only the solution set, but also the challenges. I also appreciate your survey because… And for good reason, we tend to focus on what’s best for students. Michael, as you said too the kind of dual mission, if you will, of an institution is keep folks safe and educate people, to paraphrase. But you also go into asking about staff mental health kind of current state. 67% say that staff burnout is worse, that the workload is worse, 63 per se, that mental health overall amongst staff is worse. I guess is the solution set that you’re seeing or that you hear from folks similar, do they also want these similar kind of services that we’re standing up for students? Or do the solution set need to look different for staff?
0:17:00.1 Michael London: So, staff has had what I would call some level of mental health support forever. For the most part, that has come from their healthcare and possibly an employee assistance program type solution, and those have existed for a very long time. I think the challenge there is not that different from the student challenge, and that is that those solutions today, they can’t do it anymore. And so, the fact that they’re going through healthcare, they have to go to their primary care physician. The primary care physician may or may not give them the referral to the person who could potentially help. If they get that person, there’s a wait list, so they have to go to another person. So there’s no… So, the solution that colleges are using for staff, faculty, administration, they don’t work well.
0:17:57.0 Michael London: So, to your question, what I would say is schools should be looking at something different. In our case, we do offer something for faculty, staff, and administration. Admittedly, they were… Most schools were putting their students first, but we’re seeing that changing right now. So, we expect that, and a large number of institutions are going to be doing things a little bit differently because they need to. And, look, the obvious point is if they’re not well themselves, they can’t help the students. So, they don’t really have an option there. Corporate America has the same challenge, but it’s a real challenge. And we’re seeing that evolve as we speak.
0:18:51.0 Dakota Pawlicki: David, I’d like to go back to you too, ’cause you’re an association, you’re the people that are taking this survey and saying that burnout is getting higher, that workload is getting higher, that the mental health challenges for themselves are getting higher. Those are your association members. What role do you see NASPA playing or other associations, not to put NASPA on the hook, but I got you here. So, what role do you see associations playing as a way to help folks out there serving college students?
0:19:23.0 David Arnold: Right. So, associations at their base can be a level of support or any dynamic of a group, and so we’ve got some great research that comes out of ASAE on how association membership impacts lifelong happiness within your career, impacts burnout, impacts stress. But I think the interesting thing that we’re getting just almost like an appetizer of from this survey and from other conversations that we’ve had at the Vice President for Student Affairs level through our VPSA centers, is the idea that it’s a different job today than it was 20, 30 years ago. I think about challenges that are being made at legislative levels, I’m thinking about challenges that are being made at student mental health severity levels.
0:20:08.2 David Arnold: Because the job is looking a lot different, the preparation for the job is looking a lot different as well, and that comes from professional development, from membership associations like NASPA, it comes from graduate preparation programs that set folks up for advanced degrees that are typically required for these jobs, but we’re almost into an ouroborial state where we’re eating our own tail. To catch up on the increased severity, to catch up on the legislative difficulties almost requires a significant culture change to the employment practices of institutions of higher education, and a very dynamic change to culture in our overall country and how we treat the public good that is education. And that’s really, really challenging for anyone watching this, because that is a monumental stone being pushed up a hill, but we cannot do that without some sort of collaborative advocative work that we do together.
0:21:04.2 Dakota Pawlicki: Agreed. Well, in our last few minutes, David, I’ll stick with you here. Based on the survey work that you all done and the additional analysis, what’s one or two recommendations that you think for action that institutions should take?
0:21:19.5 David Arnold: Thank you for this, Dakota, because I think that top of my list is that we need to start thinking differently about how we ask questions and build an understanding of health literacy for our students. And I think you can see this with the various surveys that are going around, think about Healthy Minds, you think about the National College Health Assessment, think about the work of Gallup-Purdue Index, you think about Gallup and Lumina’s survey, you think about the one that we did, and we’re all asking questions about stressors and we’re getting different results from different audiences in different environments and students themselves. And I think what we need to turn back to is a basic conditioning around health literacy for the development of students themselves, so that they can have a better understanding of what’s causing them stress, where it’s appropriate and where it’s not.
0:22:07.9 David Arnold: ‘Cause I always get a little bump when I talk to administrators who say, “The week before finals, my students are really stressed,” and I almost have to respond like, “Good, you should be a little stressed before an exam. That’s a normal part of a college experience.” But being stressed the first week of classes, about exams that are 16 weeks away is something that needs a little bit of mitigation. And so, we need to build literacy among ourselves as the student affairs profession, as college administrators, and we need to build some more health literacy among our students.
0:22:41.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah. Michael, what’s your recommendations for institutions based on the survey results?
0:22:47.8 Michael London: So, I think firstly, the institutions themselves can’t lose sight of the fact that the people on campus are incredible at what they do. And to me, they are the foundation for everything else that should happen with mental health and wellness. That said, I would say number one, there are groups out there that are essentially trying to get them to outsource mental health. I would run if that was the feeling that someone got. You need collaborative solutions that work well with the foundational offering that you feel you can handle on that campus. And if I was looking at complementary-type work, I would be thinking about students. So, David mentioned teletherapy. To me, it’s obvious because that’s what students are preferring. So, if you can give them teletherapy, you can give them a level of immediacy, you can give them a way to get healthy without having friction, things that are really hard. If you can do that through third parties, and that can complement the work that you’re doing on the campus, if you can enhance the diversity of the counselors, you can give students more choice, those things are an incredible complement to the good work being done on a campus. And so, to me, that’s where I would be focusing. How do you have the right foundational solution and then use third parties that can give you those things that may not be realistic to get with your campus staff?
0:24:28.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Well, thank you both for joining me today, for doing this work. It’s a fantastic report. I know I’ve sent it out to folks in my network and several campuses and institutions that are focusing on mental health, so thank you for that. And also, thank you for joining me. Michael London, CEO of Uwill, and David Arnold…
0:24:49.5 Michael London: Thank you.
0:24:51.9 Dakota Pawlicki: AVP for Health Safety and Wellbeing at NASPA, we look forward to keeping in touch.
0:24:54.8 David Arnold: Thanks so much, Dakota.
0:24:54.8 Michael London: Thank you.
0:24:54.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Welcome back. David and Michael did a really great job of outlining the current mental health challenges and potential solutions at a national level, and I’m eager now to bring us closer to the ground. In the State of Texas, a new cohort has been formed, particularly with higher education institutions to focus on mental health and wellbeing. Joining me now are two individuals that are part of and leading that cohort. Leilani Lamb, the Assistant Director for Child and Family Policy at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and Jenny Achilles, the Senior Director and Chief Program Officer at Trellis Foundation. Thank you both so much for joining us. And Jenny, I just want start right with you to get into it. Trellis recently launched a two-year mental health and well-being learning community, and includes 10 higher education institutions and a bunch of technical assistance providers like the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, The Steve Fund, The Jed Foundation and Active Minds. Bring us into the context. What led to the impetus of this cohort, what are its goals?
0:26:05.2 Jenny Achilles: Thank you, Dakota. Thank you for having me and thank you for the chance to talk about this important topic. We last year were hearing so many others in the field of the need on campuses, the need by students to have access to additional mental health and wellbeing resources. This is not traditionally Trellis Foundation’s wheelhouse. We are a funder who works in Texas, exclusively in the area post-secondary completion. We have never worked in mental health or wellbeing before, but we knew this was something that was really important and we were willing to step out and learn alongside our colleagues. So, we started by just stepping back for a minute, staff went in really in-depth in a scan of the field and of the literature and what we could find was happening and who we needed to talk to and what best practices might be. And we learned… The most important thing was we were not experts, and we were going to need help. Through that scan, we found the three partners you mentioned; The Steve Fund, The Jed Foundation and Active Minds really rose to the top in a national scan, of providers who were experts in supporting mental health and wellbeing at the post-secondary level.
0:27:26.2 Jenny Achilles: And so, we knew that we were going to want to give access to our eventual grantees, some capacity-building support and some expert consulting. We haven’t built an RFP like that before, but again, this is a new area for us. I can’t support grantees in this particular topic area, so we brought in the… We knew we wanted to bring in those three national providers, and then we knew that this work is so contextual and so based in the region and the ecosystem that a college or a university sits in. And so, we wanted to reach out to the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute to lead the learning community. They bring such a strong background in mental health ecosystems in Texas and in the policy levers, which we knew are going to come out of this as well. So, Leilani and her team and her colleagues have been serving as that learning community lead, they built the curriculum, they helped us really go back and forth to sort out what this would look like.
0:28:32.7 Dakota Pawlicki: You have 10 institutions involved. Was it hard to get them to raise their hand and say, yeah, we’re interested in joining this learning community?
0:28:40.5 Jenny Achilles: No, no, Dakota. We had a strong response from colleges and universities in Texas. And I’ll say it was actually a really difficult process to select the final grantees. Obviously, there were many more applicants who were interested than we were, in the end, able to fund, but we’re really confident in the 10 that we’re able to work with, we’re excited with the geographic distribution across the state. We have rural and urban and community college and four-year. We have HSIs and HBCUs, so we’re really excited. We think that this gives us a good chance to really learn for the field as well. And so, the goals for the cohort were threefold, starting from the localized, through the college, all the way out to the field. So, we were looking for an increased understanding by staff and/or faculty of the student mental health and wellbeing needs at their organization with a focus on student populations such as specific racial or ethnic groups within that general population, because we know that sometimes, different students, different populations need specific supports.
0:29:51.4 Jenny Achilles: We’re also always interested in better student outcomes, so uptake of services and then increased success metrics down the line. And then again, really that differentiation of student mental health and wellbeing services for specific populations. And I’ll add that we framed all of this within a basic needs context, because we know that access to food and stable housing and those other basic needs of life really influence mental wellbeing. There’s a back-and-forth relationship. If you don’t have access to basic needs, that can exacerbate mental wellbeing concerns and vice versa.
0:30:29.0 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, this is a great time for us to bring Leilani into the conversation too. Leilani, you’re kind of a central point in this learning community. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you and your colleagues at Meadows are supporting this work?
0:30:44.0 Leilani Lamb: I think that the way that you are framing it around basic needs is key, because we’re seeing that mental health is critical to getting these students to and through their post-secondary education, and if we don’t address this now, it takes one mental health crisis for attrition to happen, and that sets students back for years on their journey through post-secondary and into the workforce. So, we’ve been thrilled about the framing that is happening in Texas and about being a part of this learning community, ’cause a lot of what we do at the Meadows Institute… And learning communities are the core of what we do in a lot of our projects, because we believe that mental health does not exist in a silo and students do not exist in a silo.
0:31:19.0 Leilani Lamb: So, we’re seeing that students are in school, they are in the workforce, they’re in Social Services, they are in their communities, but often the systems that serve these students are not in all of those places. So, the way that we do this work is that we take those silos, we break them down. And that’s what we’re doing with this learning community, we’re taking the silos that exist in post-secondary and in these institutions and we’re helping them learn from each other so that they can grow. Because a lot of implementation is messy and it is scary and things do not go right the first time. That is just the way that implementation works. But when you’re existing on your own, you don’t know this. So, we built this learning community so that these institutions can learn and grow together.
0:31:55.4 Leilani Lamb: And in order to do that, the Meadows Institute and our team is the key point of contact for each of these institutions, and we’re working extremely closely with them to understand their context, their project, their communities, so that we can link them with the appropriate national provider, and so that we as an institute can provide them the proper implementation support. So we’re really excited about what we’re seeing coming out of this, because we’ve built a curriculum for them to learn, but we’re also learning what they’re learning from the field so that we can then push this out to the broader state-wide and nationwide post-secondary community, because, like Jenny said, like we all know, this is critical to and through, this is critical to our students’ mental health and wellbeing, and what we learn here has a lot of opportunity to make a huge impact.
0:32:36.2 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, this was one of the reasons I was so excited to talk to you both today. I’m really excited about this initiative. First, I love that you’re starting and leading with learning. There is a natural reaction sometimes that we get of issue response, issue solution. But as you’ve noted, particularly through a basic needs framework, things are so interconnected. Your mental health and wellbeing can suffer if you’re facing challenges related to housing, to food insecurity, to academic performance, to family issues, to work issues, all those pieces combined. And then also going another step further by further breaking down organizational silos and the information sharing, best practice sharing, lessons learned sharing that occurs across the variety of institutions that you’ve convened. And I guess there’s an opportunity here to go a little bit further. Can you talk about some of the specific challenges and barriers that some of the colleges have been sharing with you? What has been on their mind?
0:33:39.9 Leilani Lamb: So, a lot of what we’re seeing is the mental health personnel shortage. That is something that we’ve heard about in policy and state-wide, and that is absolutely affecting our institutions. So, we’re seeing in our efforts to expand their services and the way that they address their students, they can’t hire personnel, they can’t expand their services unless they get the right licensure on board to do a lot of this work. So, we’ve been seeing a bunch of incredible projects addressed at that shortage, which we can get to when we talk about solutions going forward, but I think that is one of the critical challenges that we’re facing, not only in post-secondary, but in clinical spaces, community spaces, and across the nation. And then another one, before I kick over to Jenny, that we’re seeing a lot, and I think that’s the core of what a lot of these institutions are doing, is reaching students. So, it’s not enough to build it because you cannot guarantee that they will come, which is why a lot of these learning communities are focused on finding ways to effectively reach the populations, like you said, that are historically underserved. And a lot of them are focused very narrowly on men and communities of color, and men of color, because we’re seeing that that is the community that is least often coming to get services. Or if they do come to get services, the least likely to continue utilizing those through the extent of their college career.
0:34:53.7 Dakota Pawlicki: Have either of you heard from colleges as well about the financing of these kinds of supports? We’re coming off of the pandemic and the enrollment loss that happened during the pandemic, we’re seeing the end of recovery dollars, and there is still a crisis when it comes to higher education affordability, both on the revenues to date side and on the cost side. Are you hearing from colleges that the financing of providing more robust mental health and wellbeing services is a barrier?
0:35:30.9 Jenny Achilles: I would say yes, Dakota. To the extent that there’s still federal dollars that are able to be utilized for this, that can really help kick things off. The long-term strategy for funding this continues to be a concern. I am excited, we do have a couple of campuses in the cohort who are really looking to lead in terms of looking at the ROI of this work in terms of student outcomes and the ability to see additional revenue and savings, like that… Thinking through the budget holistically, and the way that anything that supports students can really help not only the student but the campus itself. And so, we have a couple that are thinking about that intentionally, and so we’re excited about the opportunity to share with the field as we learn more about that.
0:36:14.7 Leilani Lamb: And I’d love to add to that. So, I mentioned earlier that we work a lot implementation science, implementation, and that we’re facing a lot of… A lot of our learning community members are facing very similar challenges that we face in implementation, like leadership buy-in, like Jenny mentioned, and resource management and sustainability. So, a big part of this is around sustainability, but I want highlight that a lot of times, it’s hard to get that buy-in and it’s hard to get things off the ground without an initial infusion of funds. And that’s why what the Trellis Foundation is doing is so critical, because it is this initial infusion of funds, this motivation and excitement around this work that helps to get that initial leadership buy-in, to get things off the ground, and then you can move into sustainability after that. So, without the kind of work that these philanthropic partners are doing, I don’t think we’d be seeing as much change. So again, I’m just so grateful for the Trellis Foundation and this work.
0:37:07.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, and that’s a really great point. And Jenny, maybe I can just ask you to chime in on that. I know I personally have been working with a number of philanthropic agencies across the country that are seeing the rise of mental health challenges on college campuses and are trying to figure out what the right strategy to get involved in… What the right strategy could be for them. What kind of recommendations do you have for other philanthropic agencies, whether they be national, local, state-based? What recommendations do you have for them to get involved proactively?
0:37:45.0 Jenny Achilles: Thank you. Yes, we’re definitely hearing a lot of interest from our colleagues in the field, and I think that’s why we’re excited to have been able to just jump in because as you say, a lot of times funders really do need to understand the strategies they’re embarking on before they start, but I would say, go ahead and be involved. There’s great need, and so listen to what you’re hearing in your community and then just be willing to jump in and learn and be flexible and willing to adjust as you go forward. With that also though know your limitations. We would not be as successful as we are right now if we weren’t working with Leilani and Meadows, and then the other three national partners as well. We really didn’t know we had to bring in help on this one, so go ahead, bring in experts, but do jump in. Also, understand how complex this is in your region and in the ecosystem. As Leilani has mentioned, none of this is in a vacuum, so there’s going to be a long game on this one as well. We’re going to have to think about pipeline for staffing and for professionals in the mental health space, so we need to be prepared to provide immediate support for campuses, but also being investing in that professional pipeline and also thinking about policy implications down the road.
0:39:05.0 Dakota Pawlicki: It also occurs to me, Jenny, and I wonder if you would agree with this or not, but I think sometimes philanthropy can play the role of risk mitigation. Leilani was just discussing that there are some potential solutions out there that do have some upfront costs that aren’t necessarily baked in to an existing business model, financial model or financial stream, and what philanthropy can do is kind of mitigate the financial risk to institutions to try out some of these new things, determine if they work and then allow them to identify a sustainability process. Do you agree with that, and see it in that same way?
0:39:45.3 Jenny Achilles: I would definitely agree. You know, philanthropy, at its best is often a… That’s what we’re able to do. It takes away risk from taxpayers, it takes risk away from institutions, it can take risk away from students as well to try things out. And once we have a proof of concept, then there’s more sustainable funding mechanisms can come into play.
0:40:04.7 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, and that’s one of the reasons I am so excited again about your cohort. I know I keep saying that, but I authentically am. And even before this recording, I’ve been sharing your work with as many folks as I can, because as you said earlier, it is a good cross-section of the higher education industry as well. So, I think that there’s going to be a lot of learning that can come out of this that will benefit not only the 10 institutions, the broader Texas Higher Education ecosystem, but then also others on the country. Leilani, I want come back to you as being a key member of this team and learn a little bit about what colleges are considering in terms of campus-based or institutionally-based solutions, what are they interested in trying or what do they have underway to better support students, staff and faculty with their mental health and well-being?
0:40:56.2 Leilani Lamb: Absolutely. And there are two that I’m really excited about that link so closely to the things that we were talking about earlier when we were talking about challenges. And when I say two, it’s not just two of our institutions, it is two themes we’re seeing through all 10 of our institutional projects. And for context, we have five community college systems of varying sizes in rural and urban areas, and then five four-year universities. So, the context that each of these exist in is so different. Say, if you’re doing mental health services and supports in a community college, you have older students, commuter students, students that are still in high school doing dual-credit. And four-year institutions, you have more ability to reach them. So, what I’m really excited about, what I cannot emphasize enough is role of mental health promotion in reaching these students in these different contexts, because that is how we’re not only raising or [0:41:43.5] ____ generally, but we’re also creating a space for these students, staff and stakeholders to become engaged in becoming active custodians of their own mental health well-being and that of their communities. So, it’s not only about bringing them in, but it’s about sustaining that engagement, and these projects of what we’re going to lean on when we start thinking about how we’re going to reach different communities based on demographics, rural or urban, things along those lines.
0:42:08.4 Leilani Lamb: And then a second one that I’m really thrilled about that we’re seeing in all of these is the community resource partnerships. So that is one of the most effective ways that we’ve seen to expand services, because say you’re in a rural area, and we’re seeing this with a few of our… Even in urban area, say you’re at any area, and you have a four-year institution, and then a community college system, we’re seeing a lot of partnerships where you create a pipeline to get the practicum internship students doing social work in psychology into these community college spaces to do some service, and that creates a mutually beneficial system.
0:42:42.5 Dakota Pawlicki: So, I come originally from the teaching world, I was trained to be a music teacher, I went into teacher preparation for the first part of my career, and we always had this kind of conversation where sometimes we viewed and talked to partners about how student teachers or teachers getting practicum hours were an extra value in the classroom. And that passes some kind of logic test, but we also knew though that having an individual who’s learning their craft, who’s learning what it means to be a teacher, can also be a burden on a classroom quite frankly sometimes. They’re learning themselves; it requires mentoring and excellence, and I guess that’s one of the things that I know I get concerned about in the mental health space, is when we hear about peer-to-peer models, or when we hear about bringing folks in who are not fully trained or fully licensed to be able to provide some supports that it could end up creating more problems than it solves. Are you seeing people in institutions wrestle with that, and do you have the secret sauce, like right here that we can provide to everybody, is there an answer that we can just settle it right, right now?
0:43:57.5 Leilani Lamb: I would never say that we have all the answers, but we have heard some things that we’ve learned along the way, and that’s finding the balance between these universal supports and these acuity or higher acuity supports. So, you have your intensive need students that you might end up referring out to community partners that you do close coordination with, so that once they’re stabilized, you bring them back into their in-school services so that they can integrate into their academics and everything along those lines. But they have access to this community partners that do some of that very intensive needs, hands-on work, and then you have these universal supports where a student may be coming in with academic anxiety and they may not particularly need a licensed clinician to sit down and talk through this, they might just need someone to talk to who’s a peer, who’s a graduate student, who will listen to them. So as students come in with these needs, just having a comprehensive menu of supports in a way that matches each person’s licensure and each person’s need is really helpful, because I know when I was in school, I just needed someone to listen to me.
0:44:58.6 Leilani Lamb: And there wasn’t that unless I went to a clinician, and that put a lot of pressure on the system when I was an undergrad. So, if I had just been matched with a peer support group, that would have been enough. Which is why so many of our institutions are doing kind of a dual peer support practicum and… Or I guess it’s a try, and clinician approach, just so that we have something for everyone.
0:45:23.3 Jenny Achilles: Yes, I would agree with Leilani. I would also say, if we take a step back, mental health and mental well-being is a really broad category. There’s a spectrum along there, and so I think we’ve all learned, even in our personal lives, that the breadth of different things that we may need is expansive. And so, yeah, I may need today self-care techniques, I may need to learn how to stop and breathe, and that may be something that can be offered really broadly to the entire campus, it may be on-demand, it may be… There’s lots of different ways that I may need today, in the moment that I’m in, or to Leilani point, tomorrow, I may need to talk to a peer about something I’m struggling with.
0:46:08.9 Jenny Achilles: It’s a little bit deeper need, I can’t just tune in to a brief or a five-minute app recording, but I can reach out to a peer and they can help me think through where I’m at. Or, again, yeah, I may need to talk to a professional, and it may work within hour-long sessions for six sessions or whatever may have been traditionally offered through a students’ support program, or I may need deep, intense conversation with a professional, and I may need it to be on or off campus, I may need it to be ongoing. These are all different things that even in my own life, but definitely in the different students in a campus. And so yeah, I think we’re looking at the broad supports, and what are things that in general students can learn together, and one of those being just reducing the stigma of meeting help. So, a lot of things can be campus level on that, and then we really do hone in on those more specific needs as we go. And I will say that the campuses are being really cognizant of different students access points, scheduling, the flexibility needed. So, there’s a lot of look at teletherapy.
0:47:21.4 Jenny Achilles: And I think we’ve traditionally thought about that as maybe a cost saver or an easier way for campuses to allocate resources, but I’m really excited. I think our campuses are thinking about it more in terms of, does that offer more access for students? So, I know we have some that may have one option during the day that could be in-person, but for students who need something after hours, if there isn’t access to an in-person, they may have a teletherapy option. So, I think there’s just a lot of brainstorming and breeding together different resources so that you can have a comprehensive set of options, like Leilani said, that menu that covers the entire campus and the different needs of different students.
0:48:03.4 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, and that pairs really well with what Michael and David shared with us in segment one. Uwill and NASPA’s recent survey, 93% of respondents, of campus-based leadership, stated that students are now more comfortable discussing mental health over the past five years. And as they’ve explained in segment one, they’ve noticed that in some ways, the stigma is reducing, which is great, severity is increasing, which is not great. But what that also definitely supports what you’re saying is that as more and more students and staff and faculty are becoming comfortable raising their hand and asking for some kind of support that meets their needs, we need to get better about having a menu of options that meet people at where they need based on their acuity, their severity and what they need in that moment. We only have a couple of moments left here, and I guess Leilani, I’ll kick it back to you first and then end with Jenny. What are your recommendations? We have colleges and university leaders and other folks listening today that don’t have the benefit of being in your amazing cohort, what are your key recommendations for folks?
0:49:21.4 Leilani Lamb: I’m going to bring it back to what we talked about earlier when I mentioned breaking down those silos. So, what we saw and what we’re seeing with this learning community is that implementation challenges are universal, everyone is facing them. So even if you’re not in a learning community like this one, that does not mean that you cannot break down those silos. Seek out your peers, seek out their learning and create communities where you can grow together, because I think we all get better together. But in order to do that, we need to be together. So that’s what I do a lot in my work. I know that Jenny does that a lot in her work, is seeking out the experts, and then also seeking out the peers so that we’re not embarking on these things on our own. And also, the more that you work with other people, the exciting the work becomes, and then when you get some of that leadership in peer and colleague buy-in, because when you start creating those communities, that’s when the work gets really, really great.
0:50:16.5 Dakota Pawlicki: It’s great advice. Go out, find your network, build a network and start to connect with one another. Jenny, what are some of the recommendations you might offer?
0:50:26.3 Jenny Achilles: Leilani is definitely the expert on those concrete examples. I, as a funder, I love to refer folks to resources. So, I’m just going to say, I think there’s a lot of existing documents and learnings out there, and we’re also looking to produce some more. So, shout-out to our other partners as well. Active Minds, Jed Foundation, The Steve Fund, all have some really detailed resources on their websites that can help campuses get initial understanding. It’s not the same thing as walking through with a partner, but it really… They really are good step-by-step guides on how to think about this on your campus. And then Leilani and her team, we will be following up with learnings, specific learnings that we can share out to the field as soon as we… As we can, as we’re ongoing throughout this learning community. So, I think that there are a lot of resources out there that can help walk you through some steps too, and in addition to what we’ve been able to share today.
0:51:19.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Well, wonderful, Jenny… I’m sorry, go ahead Leilani.
0:51:22.4 Leilani Lamb: I would just love to add to that, like condition of those resources. Just knowing that you’re not going to get it right the first time. We never get it right the first time. So being open to quality improvement over time and having that messy and challenging process of innovation is a really core thing to making changes like the ones we’ve discuss.
0:51:39.1 Dakota Pawlicki: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, Leilani lamb, Meadows, Mental Health Policy Institute, and Jenny Achilles from Trellis Foundation, thank you both so much for joining me today for the work that you’re doing out in Texas. I know I can’t wait to stay in touch and read and learn more about what’s coming out. So, thank you both for joining me today.
0:52:05.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Welcome back, everyone. For our last segment, I really want take us down to the institutional and campus level, and I’m really delighted to be joined by two campus leaders today who are part of that Trellis cohort that we were just learning about. Dr. Nina Enriquez is a Clinical Associate Professor from the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. And Allexa Zwinck from… The Project Director of the Panhandle Partnership from Amarillo College are joining us. And Nina, I just want start with you as a clinical professor at UTRGV, how have you noticed that mental health and well-being, what the need has changed on your college campus over the last decade or so.
0:52:48.8 Nina Enriquez: Really, after COVID, I think that was a significant time that people began to really recognize that many of our students were struggling. We really got to know our students a lot better, even if it was on the Zoom format, but COVID in itself really created a lot of anxiety and other types of mental health symptoms that our students really struggled with. Even after COVID, just wanted to come back into the classroom setting, we had a lot of students that were saying, “Yes, I want in-person, I want in-person.” But what was interesting was that even though we were meeting in-person, there were still requests that people just wanted to be able to stay home. People, I think, got comfortable with a little bit of that social isolation because of the fear of the what if. But there was also this need to be a part of something. And so, there was even… There was hesitancy with some of our students that I want be there in person, but yet, I also want stay at home to be able to protect myself, but we noticed a lot more individuals opening up. And we open up our classrooms with, first, tell me first how you all are doing today before we even start our lecture. And at the beginning, students weren’t… Well, okay, but now students are like, oh, I’m struggling, or my family member has just gotten sick, or there’s just a lot going on in my home life right now. And so, students are opening up a little bit more, and it’s become a little bit more comfortable after COVID.
0:54:23.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, that tracks really well. In our first segment, we talked to David and Michael, who did some national survey work, and one of the big findings that they’ve noticed that the survey respondents said a lot of people are saying that there’s not so much of a stigma around raising your hand and asking for some mental health and well-being support. It’s interesting though that many instructors and faculty are starting courses kind of with that opening, hey, how are you all doing, before we even get into the content today. Are you seeing that kind of culture shift happen among staff and faculty as well, a little bit more of a growing acceptance that we have to care for the mental well-being of our students?
0:55:06.9 Nina Enriquez: Yes, even at our faculty association meetings, one of the things that we started doing is that we started off doing with a professional development before we even go into our hardcore meeting and discuss issues that are happening on campus or within the curriculum. But we’re doing a lot more recognizing and talking about self-care, and that team work, and developing the ability to… What are some of the things that we can do for fun to release some of that stress. So yeah, I’ve noticed that even in… I’m also, I sit as a chair for the school of medicine well-being committee. And even the school of medicine is like, “What do we do? We got to find different opportunities. What can we do differently to engage our residents, their families?” And I thought that was such an important aspect, was that we’re now looking at also family impact, not just faculty, because really, we go back home and we take a lot of our stress, and anything that we experience that can impact our mental health, we take it to the home environment. And so, families are impacted, so we’ve been talking about that as well.
0:56:21.5 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, this is a great time to bring in your voice too, Allexa. Amarillo College is obviously in a different part of the state of Texas, and Texas is such a great national example sometimes ’cause it’s so large. Can you talk to us about how you’ve also noticed the need for mental health and well-being supports have changed on campus over time.
0:56:44.0 Allexa Zwinck: Yeah, so I actually worked in admin over at West Texas A&M University during the pandemic in the last few years, and we’ve seen an incredible amount of increase of students who are coming in to requests our services. I think COVID really had a huge impact, not only on anxiety and depression, but also their ability to communicate and connect with their peers. And so, I’m hearing a lot of students who are struggling finding that sense of community again. And within that, not having that connection or knowing know how to connect in person again, that increases already mental problems such as depression, anxiety or even social anxiety. And so, I’ve seen an increase definitely of the request for services on campus.
0:57:33.4 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, you’re drawing the connection for me too, ’cause I know in the higher ed space, we have this conversation about increasing the sense of belonging, and sometimes that belonging-ness is as much about a retention strategy, how do we make you feel like this is part of you? But I also hear you drawing a very clear connection between developing a sense of belonging and community on campus tied to mental health and well-being. Are you seeing the same connection kind of manifesting on campus?
0:58:02.0 Allexa Zwinck: Absolutely. I think that having a sense of belonging on campus is key to increasing retention. If students don’t feel like they have a place, a sense of community there, they’re going to do worse both academically and in their mental and physical well-being.
0:58:21.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Allexa, just sticking with you, we were just visiting with Jenny and Leilani, and they were sharing more about the mental health and well-being cohort of 10 institutions across Texas that they’re supporting. I’m curious if you can bring us down to what it means to be in that cohort at the campus level, what are you learning, what are you trying out?
0:58:42.6 Allexa Zwinck: Oh, being in the Trellis cohort has absolutely incredible for me personally. I’m still relatively young in my career. I’m actually working on finishing my Master’s in Clinical Psychology right now. And so, this has given me an opportunity to increase my own education of how do we make systematic differences to make services more equitable, I think along with the COVID pandemic, we also saw a rise of social justice, and I think Charles has really put that on the forefront of how do we help those who are most vulnerable, so looking at students of color, looking at students who are in rural areas or single parents, these students have really been impacted. And so, what we’re learning together is how to be better clinicians, how to be better institutions, how do we help those who need it the most? And so, for us, it’s been a wonderful way to look at how can we be better? How can we take the services that we are offering and increase the quality of them, how do we find the people who aren’t even coming in for services, what are the barriers between that? And so, finding what those are and then starting to remove them, I think is really impactful both personally and professionally.
1:00:00.1 Dakota Pawlicki: And Dr. Enriquez, I’m sure you’re also working with your colleagues at UTRGV to identify some of those barriers that Allexa was just mentioning. What are you digging into with your colleagues?
1:00:12.7 Nina Enriquez: Yeah, it’s very similar. We do have a large Hispanic population. And when you think about culture, culture in itself plays a major role in creating a lot of those barriers for our Hispanic students to reach out for help, that myth that someone is crazy, and so if you… If there’s a family member or if there’s a student that comes and seek services and the family finds out, there’s that fear that they’re going to be judged and labeled as crazy, and then that’s going to bring shame to the family. So, some of the things that we’ve talked about, and we actually teach a Latino course on campus, and that’s something that we really have begun to kind of venture out and wanting to create a curriculum that is very culturally sensitive oriented because we have a large… We’re like 96% Hispanic on our campus. And many of our students are first generation. Many of them do live in rural areas, and we have 20 or 32… I’m sorry, we have 32 colonias and those are rural areas that are very isolated. And we noticed that it’s usually it’s the rural students that are really struggling to want to reach out or even just to receive those services. You talk about limited transportation.
1:01:35.4 Nina Enriquez: Many of them don’t have that transportation, they don’t have a vehicle that they drive to school, so they’re able to afford to stay a little bit longer if they wanted to, if they wanted to go get a counseling appointment in between classes or after class. And so many of them are dependent on transportation, either from the school or from somebody else. So that also creates a barrier. But one of the things that we’re also noticing is, again, understand them. And I talk a lot about the culture, because we deal a lot with culture. The Hispanic culture is strong. As a Latina myself, the beliefs, the traditions and the values that we host, and depending on what generation you fall into within that culture, predicts how we’re going to respond to mental health. So, we’re also trying to educate many of our students that a lot of these religious beliefs and values as… We’re not trying to dishonor them, but we’re trying to increase awareness, how it creates a barrier to be able to seek help. So even just having those conversations with our students, especially our Spanish-speaking students, is tell me what actually is emotional pain and suffering versus crazy. What does crazy look like? And just bringing that awareness.
1:03:00.2 Dakota Pawlicki: And I have to imagine too, that embedding cultural competency and cultural responsiveness into a set of interventions has to be part of your conversations. If you’re providing a suite of services, let’s just say everything from peer-to-peer supports through license and clinical interventions and everything in between that, how are you incorporating that training and making sure that those interventions are culturally responsive to the particular students that you’re seeking to serve?
1:03:38.3 Nina Enriquez: Yes, that’s actually something that we have been talking about. We participated in the V-A-R training, validate, appreciate, and refer, which is part of the Active Minds, and we wanted to kind of add that culturally sensitive opponent to be able to teach and train our faculty how to have these open, in-depth conversations with students. And it’s not just the Latino, there’s so many other cultures, the Asian culture, the African-American culture, there’s a lot of barriers. So how do we have these culturally-sensitive conversations just to be able to increase awareness and maybe develop a little bit of knowledge that some of our students may begin to feel a little bit more comfortable to say, you know what, you’re right. There really isn’t anything wrong. I am not crazy. Emotional pain and suffering is real, it’s a normal natural response to a loss or to trauma. So that is actually something that we’ve been talking about, is incorporating a culturally-sensitive, doing maybe 30 minutes or adding those additional 45 minutes just on focusing on culturally-sensitive, open-ended conversations to have with students.
1:04:50.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, Allexa, you kind of kicked off this conversation for us too, talking about how as you’ve been participating in the cohort, you’ve been learning and thinking deeply about how folks show up on campus and their whole identity. As you’ve been talking and working with your colleagues at Amarillo College, how have you been approaching embedding a culturally-responsiveness framework into the kind of mental health supports that you’ve been providing?
1:05:19.1 Allexa Zwinck: I think that’s one of the great things about being part of this Trellis cohort is there is a whole series of workshops, and so a lot of them are targeted to specifically increase awareness and educate staff and faculty on how to be more culturally-competent, and then also just personally, I try and work closely with my own mentor and advisor and make sure that I’m providing competent services. Especially as a white person, I want make sure that I am being sensitive and careful and providing the best quality care that I can for people who are a little bit… For people who are different than I am. And so, it’s really a balance of educating the community with the courses that were offered and then taking on my own personal education as well.
1:06:11.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Do you feel like that self-work that you’re embarking on is something that you are seeing other colleagues, at least in the industry or across your college, doing as well?
1:06:22.2 Allexa Zwinck: I do, I do. In my job, I work with the counseling coordinators at both Amarillo College and at WT, and these are conversations that we’ve had together, of how can we make sure that we have a diverse amount of providers, how do we make sure that we’re reaching the students who really need it? If they don’t feel comfortable being with a white counselor, how can I find and hire people who can promote these messages in a sense of security and safety that I may not be able to provide? And so, we’re all having these conversations of how do we not just increase the amount of services that we have, but how do we improve the quality of services that we’re giving for everyone who’s actually receiving the services?
1:07:05.9 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, I think that’s such an important dichotomy. And just sticking with you here, in order to allow for faculty and staff and other folks and partners to do that self-work, there has to be certain conditions in place from an institutional level, culture, financial opportunity structures, otherwise. What kind of conditions do you think need to be present at an institution in order for you, a practitioner, to not only focus on increasing the quantity and availability of services, but also the quality of services?
1:07:44.2 Allexa Zwinck: I think it has to start from the top down. The leadership of the academic institutions also need to be willing to take on this work, and they need to demonstrate it to their faculty and staff. I think it starts with humility and saying, “Hey, I don’t know things”… “Hey, things are not right. “Hey, we’re living in a world where there is systematic racism everywhere, and we need to start unpacking this.” And so, it takes willingness, it takes honesty, and I think it takes humility to say, I don’t know, we don’t know, and we need to do better. And so that’s one thing that I really love at Amarillo College, is we have an incredible president who is willing to have these conversations. And I think without that top leadership saying, “Hey, I’m putting in this work too, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
1:08:36.9 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, Nina you’re also part of the UT system, and with large systems, come different sets of challenges. From your perspective, what are some of the most important conditions that have to be in place at an institutional level to seriously take on the work of improving mental health and well-being?
1:08:56.8 Nina Enriquez: It does require great leadership that has a vision that they want be able to create this change. Change the culture of… We went to the Mexico City, and we visited the university there, and it was amazing to see how students really take ownership of that university. Students are sitting in the lawns, they have their pets there, they’re eating there, just a lot of people congregating on the university campus. And I’m like, why can’t we have that at UTRGV? Why can’t we have that? And Allexa said it perfectly, you want students to feel like this is part of their home. Their environment is going to be accepting and friendly and inviting, but we have to create that, and we need buy-in from the very top. We have… In the last couple of years, the university has shifted and wanting to do a lot more of wellness programs and activities, and HR recently became involved two years ago. So human resource is now creating monthly activities on campus, but that’s just one department. And so, we need to be able to get buy-in from all departments, and every department has a talent to be able to offer, and we need to get by that and get that talent, utilize that talent.
1:10:22.6 Nina Enriquez: We went to the nutrition department and we’re offering them, could you provide us once a month or we can do a podcast and be able to talk about nutrition and wellness. We went to the athletic department and the athletic department, we can… Is there an activity? Talk about something that they can do and Wellness. So, every department, journalism, what about a writing prompt for wellness? So, every department has an ability to be able to buy in and provide some kind of a wellness activity, but it does take a lot of legwork. And I have to say I’m really excited about our Trellis team, the team that we’ve got on this grant, because everybody is highly motivated, they have a lot of energy and they are creative. You need that in leadership in order to really implement some of the activities that takes a lot of boots on the ground and they are boots-on-the-ground people. And so that in itself really gives us a positive advantage.
1:11:23.4 Dakota Pawlicki: We just have a couple of minutes left, and so, Nina, I’ll stick with you here and give you an option. You can either… I’m curious to either hear a success story, something that you’re particularly proud of that has been developing in this area, or if you have other advice, we have a lot of campus leaders and folks around the country listening in that are sharing in these challenges and looking for a potential solution. So, do you have a success story or some advice for some folks?
1:11:52.1 Nina Enriquez: Well, for the past, I want say maybe four years or five years, we’ve worked on a suicide prevention and post-pension program, and we did a lot of training and we did not have a lot of student involvement. And now that we started with the Trellis and we’re really now, beginning to talk a little bit more about mental health on campus, we’re doing a mental health fair, we’ve done a self-care fair, we’re going to be doing pause for wellness, where we’re partnering with local animal shelters to bring in puppies on campus. We want do this during finals week, that’s the most stressful time that our students do experience, and so how to find ways to relax, and reduce some of that stress as you’re preparing for your finals. But I think the most success that we were really excited about is that there was a suicide prevention training that is coming up next week, and we had over 150 students register for that training. We’ve never had that amount. We’ve normally had maybe about 20, 25, and that’s just one, they’re having two trainings. And so, they even had a waiting list for the first training, and so we just got an email the other day that they’re now starting a waiting list for the second training. So that, to me, is success. That means students want the information, they want to begin to create change. And I think because we’re utilizing the message that it’s your voice, it’s to your campus, it’s up to you, that they’re really beginning to take ownership on that.
1:13:34.0 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, what a testament to your work. It’s one thing to talk about working on culture, and then it’s another thing entirely to see the output of success as it comes to really working in that culture in that very clear way. Yeah, Allexa, same kind of question to you, are there any particular success stories that you want share or advice for other folks who are on campuses that are looking to follow your lead?
1:14:03.7 Allexa Zwinck: Sure. Well, we are just really getting started in our project with Trellis, so what we’re doing is we’re working with different community partners to develop a clinic for all of the universities in the area. I’m so really excited to see what we can learn, to see how can we best share resources to make the most impact. So, I don’t have a whole bunch of advice right now, I’m still learning myself. I would say being part of a community cohort and having that support, as well as a wealth of advice and mentors and people to seek information from has been really, really helpful along with finding those community partners. There is not a lot of funding, especially in rural areas, and so we’re really figuring out how do we do this by working together. And so, my advice would be, is make those connections, seek out mentors, seek out people who know more than you and who maybe… Like Nina was saying, with the different departments, each have their own talent. The same is true of all individual peoples in their own little micro-communities too. We all have something to offer, and so we have to figure out what it is we want bring and let’s all bring it to the table.
1:15:18.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah. And well, it sounds like part of your advice that you’ve been sharing with us so far is start with yourself and start with learning and know that you are part of the system, part of the context that we’re all here to improve student success and improve mental health and well-being. So, starting with yourself is great advice. Well, Nina, Allexa, thank you both so much for the work that you’re doing on your respective campuses for the students you serve, the faculty and staff that you serve, and of course, for joining us today to share more about the great work that you have under way. I really appreciate you joining us.
1:16:00.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Well, everyone, thanks for sticking with us on today’s show. Really, what I’ve learned today is that we’re making significant progress on reducing the stigma of asking for mental health and well-being supports. Now, we just have to adjust our programs and our methods of support to respond to the growing demand and the growing severity. That means providing more on-campus supports that meet the needs of students, faculty and staff, but it also means getting more strategic in working with partners in the public and private sector to ensure no one is left without the support they need to earn a high-quality credential. And in particular, we need to continue to ensure that the kind of supports that we’re providing on campuses are culture responsive to meet the needs of today’s students, whether they be rural, urban, students of color, LGBTQ+, or any other way they show up on campus. To learn more about what you’ve heard today from Uwill, NASPA or any… From the Trellis Foundation groups, be sure to check out the many links in our show notes.
1:17:01.4 Dakota Pawlicki: My thanks to David Arnold, Michael London, Jenny Achilles, Leilani Lamb, Nina Enriquez, and Allexa Zwinck for joining me today, and thank you especially for listening in. Our show is produced by Jacob Mann and me, Dakota Pawlicki, with support from Matthew Jenkins, Amy Bartner and the team at Site Strategics. Well Done Marketing supports the promotion of our show, Debra Humphreys and Kevin Corcoran provide leadership for Lumina’s Strategic engagement efforts. As always, please be sure to subscribe and rate our show wherever you’re having to get your podcast. And if you have a comment or an idea for a new episode, reach us at luminafoundation.org. Thank you so much for being with us and we’ll see you next month.