Updated: Feb 4, 2021
The world changed for Salisbury University students in March of 2020. The usual bustling, lively campus cleared and was desolate after the alert was broadcast through the university emergency system.
Thomas Lee, then a freshman at SU, was among the students living on-campus that were sent home for what would be the rest of the spring semester. The perks of going home were matched with the seriousness of the pandemic.
“It was very mixed reactions of ‘it’s great that we’re going home,’ but it’s also like we have no certainty of what the future may hold,” Lee said.
Remote learning consisting of computer screens, Zoom calls and class in pajamas became the “new normal.” Suddenly, students getting acclimated to the independent life away from home were forced back into the close quarters of their childhood homes.
“I was going through a real rough patch in that time because I was being forced into the same household 24/7 with people who I couldn’t resonate with as much,” Lee said. “So that caused a lot of friction and problems.”
After forging through the trying spring semester and the oddities of a socially distanced summer, there was an almost audible collective sigh of relief when SU announced they were opening their doors for the fall of 2020.
Lee was again met with mixed feelings. This time between feeling ecstatic to get out of his house and counting the days until he could return to SU, and the other feeling being worry over another shutdown and his fellow classmates.
“If I was dealing with the things I was dealing with, and the fact that I was dealing with them in a global pandemic without really a good foundation, I can’t be the only one who’s dealing with that,” Lee said. “So that made me worry quite a bit in terms of like how everyone is dealing with the state the world’s going to be in, in terms of SU and the future.”
Lee is one of the many students dealing with anxiety as the hybrid semester commences. At Salisbury University, supportive student resources are mobilizing to continue working amid pandemic restrictions.
Behind the door of the counseling center lies a long hallway filled with the occupied offices of counselors and rooms available for reservation. Posters advertising various support groups and signs reminding students of the new coronavirus protocols hang outside the reception at the end of the corridor.
Sabrine Sahle is one of the center’s counselors providing hybrid therapy to students. She said no clients are being seen in person, but those who come seeking crisis intervention in-person are sent to separate rooms where they speak with counselors through Zoom.
Various support groups tailored to students of differing backgrounds and interests such as “Sister Circle,” “BeYOU” and “Coping with COVID,” and new six-week mindful mediation sessions are available as well.
“It is mostly things that students need basically for what is going on right now currently in terms of general coping strategies and to kind of supplement their therapy sessions that we provide,” Sahle said. “So, between those sessions they can work on them and get the support that they need.”
Though the center has switched to a six-session short-term model of treatment, there is flexibility based on students’ needs.
The counselors are not disheartened if students continue to struggle, Sahle said, because the center will continue to provide what is needed.
“If they met their goals and they’re satisfied that will give us that satisfaction as well,” Sahle said.
The counseling center does not work for everyone though.
Lee said that he remembers the intake questions being unpleasant to answer and that he felt uneasy in session after recalling the confidentiality policy. He said his overall experience was mediocre.
Alternative supportive resources remain available to students, including Multicultural Student Services and the Disability Resource Center.
Down the hall to the left of Blackwell Halls’ lobby is the newly re-located Multicultural Student Services.
Multicultural Student Services is drastically different from the counseling center. Its program highlight diversity and inclusion of cultures and ethnicities, sexual orientations and genders, along with support for students Program Coordinator Richard Potter said.
It is a “home away from home for students of color of campus,” Potter said.
Multicultural Student Services works with the multicultural student organizations at SU, as well as the identity-based student groups on campus like the LBGTQ Alliance and the Organization for Latin American students.
The inclusion these events highlights bring him joy because they highlight “differences that add total value to the community,” Potter said.
Overlap between the counseling center and Multicultural Student Services occurs as well.
Potter said he makes referrals to the counseling center when students are seeking mental health services and that he recognizes the stigma surrounding therapy in the Black community.
“If students are entrusting me with those conversations, then I like to start to break those barriers down,” Potter said.
Multicultural Student Services and the counseling center also have a support group called “Brother’s Keeper” for male students of color that meets every third Monday of the month. The group allows students to have one-on-one conversations where they can discuss their own experiences and their feelings about world events.
The work that Multicultural Student Services does and the message the program spreads is important to campus life Potter said.
He said he is satisfied with the work that he has done, but that he recognizes the need to do more and that there is a lot of work ahead.
“It’s developed into stages and we’re on the beginning cuff,” Potter said.
The elevator doors open on the second floor of the Guerrieri Student Union and there it is in room 229: The Disability Resource Center.
The waiting area lies in the middle of the suite and three offices occupied by the graduate intern[s], Student Accessibility Specialist Jalesa Hull and Director Candace Henry branch off from there.
The Disability Resource Center provides accommodations and services to students with any kind of diagnosed disability, not just those related to mental health. The work the center does is related to the removal of academic barriers.
The center works with anything related to classroom instruction and access across the university Director Candace Henry said.
“We [kind of] provide more of that academic support, as well as that socioemotional support,” Henry said.
Students seeking accommodations go through an intake process and once those accommodations are in place, academic skill building services are provided as well.
In one-on-one discussions the students share their specific academic challenges, Henry said, so things like time management or organization are worked on.
“It’s not really looking at their life from a clinical standpoint, it’s more practical,” Henry said.
The center often works on social development and stress management to work on disability as an identity.
Henry said students who use the center have typically never had to identify themselves as having a disability because of parent and school involvement.
“This is a completely new experience, so we’re working with students to develop that first level of independence as it relates to their educational experiences," Henry said.
The most rewarding experiences come from seeing students' progress and from breaking down institutional barriers.
Incoming students check in with the center daily or weekly their first semesters, but their second semesters they do not since they begin feeling empowered and know the center’s support is still there when needed, she said.
“All of those opportunities make the field just so much more rewarding and impactful for us,” Henry said.
*CORRECTION: Previous versions of this article indicated the following as a direct quote, which has since been appropriately adjusted to its correct form:
"The most rewarding experiences come from seeing students' progress and from breaking down institutional barriers. Incoming students check in with the center daily or weekly their first semesters, but their second semesters they do not since they begin feeling empowered and know the center’s support is still there when needed. All of those opportunities make the field just so much more rewarding and impactful for us.”
Of which, “This is a completely new experience, so we’re working with students to develop that first level of independence as it relates to their educational experiences," and “all of those opportunities make the field just so much more rewarding and impactful for us,” were direct quotes.
By ANGEL KONTRA
Photo credit: Angel Kontra.