Faculty and Professors gathered in the Sunnen Lounge of the University Center on Jan. 30 for a discussion on “Supporting Students’ Mental Health.” This event was part of an ongoing Equity and Access Faculty Conversation Series.
On Jan. 30, Webster University faculty and staff were invited to a meeting to discuss mental health awareness in the classroom. This meeting was one session in a series of gatherings that Webster has conducted over the past three semesters. The meetings focus on providing information to faculty and staff about how to support different types of students.
Liza Dister, the faculty development coordinator at Webster University, said they began the Equity and Access Conversation Series in the spring of 2019.
“We in the Faculty Development Center started organizing these conversations based on feedback that we received from faculty that they wanted more support in creating environments that would be supportive of underrepresented student populations,” Dister said.
Dister mentioned that these sessions originally began because faculty were interested in supporting transgender and nonbinary students at Webster. From there, the sessions branched off into meetings about students with autism spectrum disorders. Dister said that faculty are starting to take an inclusive teaching approach to the classroom setting.
Faculty and staff listened to a panel of mental health professionals on the Webster campus, with two speakers who discussed the facilities the university offers to students. They also tried to educate faculty and staff on when they should encourage students to seek help.
Webster freshman Caleb Broeker said that the mental health services at Webster are not promoted enough. He has utilized those resources during his time at Webster and thinks that everyone can benefit from them if they were made more aware of their options. Broeker noted that students would benefit even more if Webster increased and promoted therapeutic resources.
“I feel it would be beneficial for the university to add more resources for students who are undergoing mental stress,” Broeker said.
Webster provides free counseling to students. These counseling sessions range from one-on-one meetings to group therapy. Depending on the number of students enrolled in these programs, Dister said there might be a waitlist. Broeker said that his experience on the waitlist was difficult in the beginning, but he received a counselor within the first semester. He mentioned that counseling has made positive changes in his outlook and mental health.
“My counselor is very sweet and knowledgeable, she’s easily the best I’ve had,” Broeker said.
This positive experience is what Dister and the faculty development center are trying to accomplish with their meetings. She said that they want to create classrooms where all students feel comfortable and are able to succeed.
“Faculty had a lot of interest in creating a classroom environment that would be supportive,” Dister said.
Students may soon be seeing a change in mental health discussions in the classroom. Broeker said that right now, there is not a consistent narrative from faculty about mental health.
“Mental health is not really talked about in the classes I’ve had, although it varies from professor to professor,” Broeker said.
Despite this, Dister mentioned that faculty hearing directly from students about their experiences inspires them to make change. Due to this interest, the discussion sessions are open to faculty and students.
“What we’ve noticed, in terms of helping faculty and staff understand these issues, is that they’re happy to hear from other faculty staff, but they’re most happy to hear from students,” Dister said.