Position: The Franklin supports adding staff to the counseling center when possible. Additional trained staff will provide the professional help students and faculty need to prioritize community mental health.

Students, faculty and staff have experienced one of the most chaotic semesters on campus.

Between a Presidential election, rising COVID-19 cases in Johnson County, and the death of a student, it’s been difficult to handle classes and work. It’s become emotionally draining to balance everything at once.

Like most colleges and universities, Franklin College o ers mental healthcare through a counseling center. But the sta is limited to two counselors, Sara Kinder and Dr. John Shafer. Their work is supported by Hannah Adams Ingram, director of religious life and campus chaplain.

Under normal circumstances, this trio manages much of the effort to promote community mental health. It’s in a year like 2020, however, that it’s become clear additional staff could aid in helping more students, faculty and staff prioritize their mental wellbeing.

October and November are normally the counseling center’s busiest months, Kinder said, and this year has been busier than usual. Lately, her appointments have included students concerned about the election. She also sees people who are worried about family members who are battling COVID-19 and the uneasiness of how the semester will end.

Sophomore Grace Stewart is one student who regularly visits the counseling center. She’s faced family problems, such as COVID-19 affecting her family members and their financial status, and obstacles to her mental health because of stress at school and home. Stewart knew she needed help and reached out to the counseling center, which she said has helped her a lot.

But she said she’s a slow learner. Being a first-generation student with no family guidance as to how to navigate through what it is like to be a student, it takes her double the effort to explore her options. It has been a real challenge to stay motivated while she constantly worries about her family’s situation, given her mom just received surgery and is not working, Stewart said.

“And adding school plus the pandemic on top of that is just an entire recipe for disaster,” Stewart said. “And I haven't even started thinking about finals yet. I literally can't. If I do, I completely shut down.”

Stewart said only a few people on campus understand what she’s going through, making it hard for her to gure out her problems. It has been challenging to get through classes when professors cannot understand the difficulties in her life.

If more counselors were available to help the campus community know and understand students like Stewart, Franklin College would be better equipped to support each other in times of crisis.

Adams Ingram is also available for support through the Office of Religious Life. In addition to providing spiritual and religious help, she’s also there to listen to those who just need someone to talk to. And that includes faculty.

With online classes, faculty have described the trouble of speaking to black squares, where they don’t get a hello or goodbye from their students. As soon as class is over, students tend to click “leave room” without a word.

Adams Ingram said grace and compassion is needed for all on campus. To students, professors just assign work and tests, but we don’t give the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their own mental health challenges. Likewise, professors might infantilize students and forget everything they must juggle to stay afloat.

“It’s essential to remember that every person that we interact with is a full person, that we are only seeing a slither of their life,” Adams Ingram said.

The Franklin supports adding additional staff to the counseling center when it becomes possible to do so to aid in this mission. That includes support for the work that is currently being done to improve access to mental health services.

Dean of Students Andrew Jones and Dean of the Faculty Kristin Flora each said they would consider adding more staff to the counseling center if needed. One idea includes hiring interns by partnering with an area master’s program, for example.

This di cult year has proven why we need more than two counselors and the chaplain, even with as much as these three contribute to the community.

Additional trained staff will ensure students receive the professional care they need to prioritize community mental health, now and in the future.

Students should remember their worth. Waking up one more day is a great accomplishment, and we are glad you made it.

Remember to take a moment and breathe.

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