Trinity University provides several different outlets for those seeking assistance with their mental health. Depending on students’ diagnoses, support ranges from in-class accommodations to temporary counseling sessions.
For those who possess a diagnosis, registration through Student Accessibility Service (SAS) can help provide support to students’ campus lives.
“There’s not really a comprehensive list of accommodations because we start where the student is at. They come to us having a disability, and when they do they come meet with me or Catherine [Morell-Nickle],” said Alyse Gray, student accessibility specialist. “When they come, they discuss their disability, and how that impacts their campus life — so academics, housing, dining, extra-curricular activities — all of that we work with, so that students can get equal access to higher education.”
Accommodations provided through SAS can take many different forms, included modified attendance, extensions on assignments and access to the Accommodated Testing Center, to name a few. However, this department differs from others which may provide additional help to students, such as Counseling Services.
“Accommodations are through student accessibility services, [Counseling Services] doesn’t provide accommodations or documentation for accommodations; what we can provide to students dealing with mental health issues are a consultation, potential short-term counseling or a referral if the student needs longer term or more specialized treatment,” said Richard Reams, associate director of counseling services. “We see 90 percent of the students who come here in the counseling center — maybe 10 percent would get a referral off campus.”
But students’ experiences with disability differ, and consequently, so do their experiences with seeking accommodations at Trinity. Several students opted not to initially register with SAS, such as senior philosophy major Michael Drozdiak.
“For this more independent chapter of my life, I tried to not seek accommodations until it became an absolute issue for me. Before, I relied basically on the empathy of my professors to understand, as I would occasionally talk to them about it,” Drozdiak said. “When it became difficult for me to accomplish what I needed to in classes, it wasn’t always easy for me to articulate what could have helped. Stopping by accommodation services though, they definitely have the standard accommodations.”
After students have registered through SAS, they must go and talk individually with their professors about receiving accommodations within specific classes. Several students have cited overall positive experiences with the process of registering through SAS.
“Most of [my professors] are pretty understanding, but others are more skeptical, and will say you need to email SAS to make sure it’s legitimate and whatnot, and I always have to give them paperwork,” said Dinda Lehrmann, a sophomore art major diagnosed with anxiety and depression. “I’ve actually never had any serious problems … I’ve always had a pretty good time communicating with Dr. Morell-Nickle, and I’ve never felt like my disability has been diminished.”
This skepticism seems almost universal amongst students interviewed. Drozdiak echoed this sentiment.
“Most of the professors here have been helpful and willing to listen to what would be most practical and fair. There have been a couple instances where professors have been suspicious of me bringing these issues to them, but even in those circumstances, I don’t think there was necessarily malice,” Drozdiak said. “Addressing the stigma behind it, and the barriers behind getting them, a lot of that is still left up to the students.”
Other students recounted less favorable experiences. Two cited instances when professors refused to be cooperative in providing extensions, even with the accommodation letter from SAS. Both students, who each asked to remain anonymous, were registered through SAS and had previously discussed accommodations with these faculty members.
Other difficulties can also emerge even when faculty is completely willing to work with students, such as in utilizing certain services provided through SAS like the ATC.
“All the accommodations I’ve received with a student accessibility services letter — 100 percent, no questions asked. Professors are super great at working with me,” said Addison Keller, a junior political science major diagnosed with anxiety and depression. “The most difficult thing is trying to use the testing center. … Most of the professors that I’ve had feel frustrated with that, and in the end just proctor with me separately on their own time, or will wait after a little bit. It just ends up being easier for them to take care of it.”
Another student commented that while the space has been useful, its overuse during finals makes reduced distraction accommodations inefficient.
Some students have encountered barriers while attempting to use of the services available.
“I hate the Halsell location, I think it’s super difficult … to get help when it’s that far away,” Keller said. “It’s already not a building that students frequent, so people don’t know what it is, they don’t know how it get there and it’s far away.”
Students don’t always have the easiest time in seeking out help from counseling services. Appointments must be made via phone call, and counselors can only see students every few weeks.
“I know that sometimes walk-in hours and the counseling services that they have for students with mental health issues aren’t always enough, and so they send students away sometimes,” Lehrmann said. “I do know that some people don’t have resources to a consistent psychiatrist or psychologist, and not everyone is diagnosed, which makes it difficult to get accommodations for mental health issues.”
Keller also echoed these concerns, pointing out that not all students may possess transportation or the money to seek off-campus counseling.
However, counseling services is currently taking steps to create a more accessible environment for students. According to Reams, the Halsell location has only been temporary for the last several years, and the office will be moving back to a location in the Coates University Center next fall. Similarly, they’ve taken other steps to provide better services.
“As of two weeks ago, [the number of counselors] went from three to four — we just hired an additional counselor that we’ve been asking for. Dr. Claudia Rodriguez Kypuros joined us on Jan. 8. We’re excited to have more staff,” Reams said. “With the fact that during the past seven years or so the percent of undergraduates utilizing counseling services has gone from 10 percent to 17 percent, we just could not keep up with the request for assistance.”
Several students also confirmed that additional staff for SAS might also help. Other students, such as Drozdiak and Keller, argued for a more community-based approach in improving both access and acceptance in seeking accommodations.
“Especially during mental health awareness week I know people who tweet, ‘This is something that I struggle with,’ and I might have a similar struggle, but we’re not pals. How do I just text them and be like, ‘Hey, I wanna talk to you about that?’ ” Keller asked. “I know that we have a lot of support groups, like helping bring people together that have similar struggles, and I think it helps a ton for students to be able to talk to their peers who aren’t just counselors, to say, ‘I understand what you’re feeling.’ ”
This article marks the beginning of a four-part series addressing campus accessibility. Readers interested in weighing in are invited to contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org