Campus News

A New Year in the Division of Student Life

September 11, 2013
Cynthia Nickoloff

As dean of the Division of Student Life, Eric Estes oversees Student Health Services, the Counseling Center, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Class Dean System, the Office of Safety and Security, and more. As Oberlin embarks on the 2013-14 academic year, Oberlin OnCampus asked him about new developments and initiatives in his division.

What’s new this year with health and wellness?

There is so much going on. It’s really important and exciting. We have hired Matthew Hayden ‘00 as our new assistant dean for health initiatives and dean of the class of 2017. Besides strengthening the class dean system in terms of expertise related to mental and emotional health and experience with the conservatory—Dean Hayden was double degree student at Oberlin—he will be helping to coordinate several of the peer-to-peer outreach and mentoring programs started by the Counseling Center last spring. He also had a lot of experience with faculty outreach at his last institution, and that’s something we are going to be focused on this year.

There should also be a great new website launched in September that highlights all the opportunities, ongoing and new, related to health and wellness so students can find everything in one place. This is a collaborative effort between athletics and student life.

Speaking of the Counseling Center, what is new there?

We have increased the Counseling Center's clinical access heading into this year by about 20 percent. Outreach and education hours increased by 64 percent last year and will increase again significantly this year with the addition of Dean Hayden’s position. The Counseling Center launched several very important peer-to-peer initiatives last year, including a student advisory board to enhance communication and collaboration with students; a suicide prevention network consisting of students, faculty, staff and community members dedicated to assessing needs and resources and starting new initiatives in this critical area; and a student support network that trains students to better manage their own mental and emotional health and wellness as well as serve as mentors to their peers.

We hear sometimes from students that they can’t get into the Counseling Center soon enough. Is that true?

Hopefully the increase in clinical access I mentioned will help a lot. A student is usually offered an appointment time with in 24 to 48 hours. Students can help by being flexible, just like they need to be at home when seeing a primary care physician. If a student is in crisis, they will be seen the same day, usually immediately. There are walk in hours every day— essentially a same day appointment. Usage of walk-in hours increased last year by 19 percent. If for whatever reason you need to get an appointment and have any issues, call me or John Harsbarger, director of the Counseling Center and Student Health Services, and we’ll take care of it. My number is 440-775-8462, and John’s is 440-775-8470.

We’ve also heard that there is a cap on how many times a student can be seen at the Counseling Center, and that many students get referred to local therapists. What’s the deal?

There is no limit to the number of visits of student can make to the Counseling Center. Some visit for one or two appointments and get the short-term support they need, and others come for more lengthy periods of time. Only 8 percent of students were referred to local therapists last year. Many of them requested a referral so that they could find a better match with a therapist in the community. In the end we are focused on students finding the support that works best for them.

What’s going on in Student Health Services?

This year Student Health Services is adding two additional walk-in hours—Monday and Thursdays from 4 to 5:30 p.m.—that will begin on Monday, September 30. Wednesday walk-in hours (8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) also will resume on Wednesday, October 2. Students themselves recommended additional walk-in hours after collaborative discussions with staff. Current Student Health Services hours are posted on the SHS website.

We are also planning to add to the services for which we’ve lowered the cost or offer free of charge. So, for example, based on student input and discussion, we started offering emergency contraception for free last year. We also started offering flu shots to students for free last year. We are going to work with students this year to identify more resources to add to our lower-cost and free-of-charge schedules. I am especially pleased that we were able to work with our insurance company in order to cover important services for trans and gender nonconforming students with our Student Health Insurance.

What’s going on with the trespass policy?

The college has released a revised policy. While there have been some significant changes, I’m sure it will not make everyone happy. My hope is that it can be seen as a step in the right direction. I think the creation of a limited trespass order of one year and the creation of a community advisory board with significant local noncollege representation are just two of the key changes. I also think the resources being dedicated to an intensive review of current trespass orders and the granting of proactive amnesty to people who no longer pose a concern are really important. The conversation isn’t done and neither is the work, but I think the community advisory board is the best group to continue both moving forward.

Are you excited about reconnecting with the student working groups that pushed for institutional change last spring?

Yes, of course, and we’ve already started related to areas we agreed on. Important, reasonable changes made to both new faculty and new student orientations are just a couple of examples. These were important moments to talk about the events of last spring and what we learned from them. In some cases we were already doing work related to student concerns. For example, divisional meetings in Student Life—required for all staff in student life—have focused on building social justice capacity for a number of years now. In the past, staff members have engaged in monthly professional development on topics like supporting students related to current and former intimate partner violence, disabilities, LGBTQ issues and concerns, and religious pluralism. This year our first discussion will be with a national expert on supporting students on the autistic spectrum.

You were director of the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) for seven years, weren’t you? Do you miss it?

Yes and yes. Mostly I miss working with the coordinators and the students. I’m really proud that students and staff have gone on to do great things. Kate Eubank, an ’03 grad and former LGBT community coordinator (CC), is the executive director of a nonprofit working with LGBTQ youth. Marisol LeBron ’07, former Latina/o CC, is finishing her PhD at NYU and is a faculty member at Dickinson College. I was especially pleased with the restructure of the director position to also be an associate dean in Arts and Sciences, which happened during my fifth year in the position. It gave the MRC a really important role related to curricular and faculty diversity that it never had previously.

But enough reminiscing. The MRC is in great hands. Alison Williams is terrific! And as dean, I can do important things like make sure that the MRC gets more resources to do its work. Contrary to rumors on Gawker, all of my support for the MRC is above board, totally transparent.

What else are you thinking about and working on?

I think the creation of the Sexual Offense Policy Task Force was so important last year. Everyone on the task force has worked really hard especially the students. I’m looking forward to the recommendations and some significant changes. It’s going to be really important.

I’m really excited about the new Student Accessibility Advocates program in the Office of Disability Support Services. Check out this article on their important work.

I’m also excited about a new initiative for second-year students. Last spring we started a program for them. We had dinner at my house and heard some great remarks from Professor Caroline Jackson Smith about her production of The Laramie Project. Students received free tickets, and we all went together to see the play. It was great fun. I’ll be hosting a series of dinners this year. If you’re interested in attending let me know!

It’s going to be a great year, and I’m excited to get started.

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