While it’s hard for students to find counselors with preferred identities, Counseling and Psychological Service (CAPS) is making an effort toward accommodating as many of those identities as possible.
At the suggestions of students, the department now provides the option to request a counselor holding certain identities, both racial and ethnic, and sexual identities. Last year 42 percent of the therapists on staff were people of color, and this year that has increased to 67 percent.
The changes to CAPS are a response to the change in the institution’s needs. The number of of first generation and students of color on campus has increased in the past few years according to psychologist and Mills alumna, Lilian Gonzalez, and students have already expressed the new CAPS options are what they need.
“Some students have endorsed wanting to wait 2 to 3 weeks to see a clinician [with their preferred identities],” Gonzalez said.
CAPS department‘s new-hires are also an effort to better engage with the Mills community. Ivonne Mejia, one of the new clinical psychologists, holds the position of campus outreach counselor. Previously on staff at UC Berkeley, Mejia says she was attracted by Mills’ diversity and its commitment to social justice. She now holds the title of campus outreach counselor. This position has been implemented to make CAPS more visible on campuses.
“It’s important being visible on campus whether that means being at campus events, or through building relationships with different university constituents,” Mejia said. While she holds this title, she states that it is an aspiration of herself and her colleagues.
The changes in the CAPS department are in direct response to requests made by students of color for the CAPS staff to reflect who they are. Gonzalez believes in the importance of having these options when building a trustworthy bond with one’s own clinician.
“It’s helpful to see myself in my clinician,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez believes there is a cultural divide between students who may not feel a connection to their clinician, and that it is the clinician’s job to provide culturally relevant techniques and practices to best fit their students circumstances, and to also honor where students come from.
“The white-identified clinicians are constantly engaging in conversations about privilege and how their dominant ideologies may affect the students that they are going to serve,” Gonzalez said.
Students have responded positively to these new options thus far. Leonardo Reyes-Montoya says that he plans on using CAPS services this school year,
“The increased diversity is a positive step toward progress in the Mills community,” Reyes-Montoya said. “When my identity is reflected in the staff it makes me feel comfortable through the process of seeking accommodations to ensure my academic success.”
CAPS also wishes to improve its accessibility. In the past, students could only make appointments by going to Cowell and signing up, but now appointments can also be made over the phone
CAPS hopes to change the stigma around counseling, and promote other forms of healing. Both Gonzalez and Mejia encourage students to come and use the services provided by CAPS even if they have no previous history of counseling. Even if it is only out of curiosity, they still want to see students and if it isn’t the right fit for the student they can direct them towards other methods of healing. CAPS offers eight free counseling sessions to every student each academic year.