After the school day and during free periods, many students flock to the Community and Multicultural Development (CaMD) office, situated in the heart of campus on the first floor of Morse Hall. Through CaMD’s new collaboration with the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center, a counselor will now be available in the CaMD office on certain days of the week. Jewel Gear ’94, Psychological Counselor/Wellness Educator, will serve as Sykes’ liaison with the CaMD office.
According to Gear, the goal of the collaboration between Sykes and CaMD was to make a counselor available at locations on campus that students frequently visit. Gear hopes to use the opportunity to do further outreach and education on mental health, thereby increasing students’ comfort levels with seeking ongoing therapy.
“My hope in making the offer to do this was that I could be more visible, and people could see who works in Sykes and maybe form a connection. And what we do in counseling is… about 15 minutes to work on problem-solving or coping skills. I thought I could do that from CaMD too, and maybe reduce some of the barriers by being more centrally located,” said Gear.
Although Gear has been working as a private counselor at Sykes, in CaMD, her role is projected to become more public. Bridget Tsemo, Director of the CaMD office, believes that Gear will be a familiar, welcoming presence for students who frequently visit CaMD and hope to receive counseling.
“I can envision her being on the sofa, [with] students coming in, and she [would] just [be] like, ‘Hey, how are y’all? How was your day? What’s going on?’— [students] getting to know her and her getting to know them. And [Gear,] being a professional, I can imagine her saying, if you want to have this conversation, let’s make an appointment… So that is intentional, the difference between watching kids play Uno or laughing with them versus ‘We need to have this serious conversation,’” said Tsemo.
Tsemo continued, “[Gear] graduated some years ago, and now she’s back here working as one of the counselors in Sykes. She wanted to find a way, because CaMD was so important to her from her years of being here, to contribute to being in this office. So she volunteered and contacted us and said she would like to have some time where she just comes here, and she makes herself available to students.”
Gear hopes that her presence in CaMD and casual, friendly approach to conversing with students can influence students’ decisions to seek counseling through Sykes. Gear admitted that students may often feel intimidated by reaching out for help in an unfamiliar setting.
“If you never come over, then you never get the chance to know anybody who you would want to talk to. So by moving the service part of the time to the CaMD office, it just allows people to kind of get to know at least me to be a touchpoint,” said Gear.
Tsemo echoed Gear’s sentiments regarding the plan. Tsemo intends for the presence of a counselor in a space such as CaMD to build trust between students from marginalized backgrounds and the Sykes counseling team.
“Maybe if they get to know [Gear] outside of Sykes, and get to see how cool she is in this environment, they can say maybe there is a counselor who will respond to my identity, my issues around identity… I know that she has an interest in students who come here. So my belief is that if she has that interest, and she’s reaching out to say what she’s trying to say—‘I am sensitive to some of the issues that may be specific to those of you who have a particular kind of identity.’” said Tsemo.
Camila McGinley ’23 appreciates this collaboration between Sykes and CaMD, believing it would help destigmatize mental health conversations, especially for BIPOC students. McGinley hopes that the counselor’s presence could be further extended to other spaces on campus such as the Brace Center for Gender Studies.
“I think it is a really good idea [to put a counselor in CaMD]. I feel like it can help destigmatize and make mental health resources more accessible specifically for BIPOC students where mental health can be very stigmatized in BIPOC communities. I think that making a counselor available in a place where many BIPOC and underrepresented students feel included and comfortable can make reaching out and meeting with a counselor easier… I feel like [CaMD is] a more private place and a place that [their] work focuses on being inclusive of individuals’ identities, which allows for people of underrepresented communities to feel more comfortable,” said McGinley.
Nahila Hutchinson ’24 commented on her experience with seeking counseling in the past. Hutchinson felt that her background made her more hesitant to seek the help she needed. However, Hutchinson believes that having a counselor in a space like CaMD would help alleviate some of the stress from receiving mental health support.
“Personally, I feel it would be very beneficial to the students who have counseling needs based on their identities, such as race or ethnicity. The idea of getting a Sykes counselor assigned to me has been a little stressful in the past because I’ve had to wonder whether they would understand me, my struggles, and my background. Having somebody in CaMD already trained on these topics would ease some of Black and brown students’ reluctance to get counseling,” said Hutchinson.