As a mental health professional and more specifically a counselor at Concordia, I feel that it is important to respond to the opinion piece, “On-Campus Sexual Offenses are Underreported and Undertreated” (March 23, 2017). It appears that the article is seeking to bring attention to several very important issues affecting not only Concordia, but college counseling centers across the nation: the prevalence of sexual assault, the process of reporting it, and the general availability of on-campus mental health services. While advocating for more help for students, the article included incorrect information that may deter students from using the help available at Concordia’s counseling center.
The article suggested that students who have experienced a sexual assault do not have immediate access to counseling. This is simply not true. Concordia’s counselors are always willing to meet with students in crisis as quickly as possible during office hours. A “crisis” may involve imminent safety, but it may also involve other serious mental health symptoms, sudden loss, trauma, or sexual assault. Sexual assault is always taken seriously as a matter that deserves immediate attention. Of course, we cannot know if a student is having a crisis unless we are told. We kindly ask students to be honest about how imminently they need help. If a student tells us they are in crisis we will quickly assess the situation and determine how we can help.
The article also stated that outside of crisis situations students will wait “an average of two weeks for an appointment with a counselor.” Unfortunately, this is true: at certain times during the semester an increased number of students seek our services, yet we have a limited number of counselors. This is not unique to our campus and mirrors trends in many college counseling centers (see the 2014 National Survey of College counseling Centers). After consulting with colleagues from community agencies and on-campus counseling centers in the area, I can report that two to four-week wait times for an appointment is not unusual. It should be pointed out that each of these agencies also have protocols in place to immediately help those in crisis.
I applaud the writer’s intent to address sexual assault and advocate for mental health services. Please keep that spirit going! In the meantime, please do not forget that Concordia’s counseling center (along with many other departments at Concordia) is made up of caring, empathetic people who have a true passion to help students. We are here for you, and we are always happy to answer questions about the services available to students.