In November, Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation held a protest to stand in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri and Yale, who had been protesting the unfair treatment of minority students on their campuses as well as the failure of their administrations to proactively address the issue of racism.
SOUL leaders at Penn provided their own list of demands on the administration in order to address issues of racism. One of these demands was increased “underrepresented minority employees” at Counseling and Psychological Services.
"I think there’s value in talking to someone who looks like you or may have similar lived experiences.” said UMOJA President Ray Clark.
The importance of a diverse CAPS staff is something that is acknowledged by CAPS Director William Alexander.
“With underserved minority populations, it is important to have representation on any staff, our staff, just because it portrays a more welcoming and open community to talk to,” Alexander said. “If you look at the counseling center and you see all white faces, and you’re an international student, you might be a little more hesitant.”
CAPS Director of Outreach and Prevention Meeta Kumar said that some mental health issues are more likely to effect minority students at Penn, an issue that might be better addressed by CAPS workers of minority backgrounds.
“Many of the issues are those common to any Penn student,” Kumar said. “Others that are more specific are national incidents and issues of racism or homophobia, which have a negative impact on students and communities.”
Kumar argued that stigmas surrounding mental health are often prevalent in minority communities, which could prevent students from seeking treatment.
“There are a range of stigmas in various minority communities” Kumar said. “Lack of mental health discussions; dichotomous ideas of illness, being 'strong' means capability to deal with any adversity and 'weak' as in needing support; feelings of guilt in disclosing personal problems to others, et cetera.”
These stigmas can affect the extent to which students are able to discuss mental health within their families.
“Family members of minority students may not be attuned or sensitive to mental health issues that may create additional challenges,” she said.
Kumar also believes that a “Western lens” on psychology might not fit all cultures, which is why CAPS employs “clinicians with expertise/certification in specific group care, such as African-American, Latina, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, African, Asian and multiracial identity issues and counseling.”
Despite CAPS’ insistence that its staff is diverse, minority student leaders at Penn are calling for a CAPS staff that is more demographically representative of the Penn community.
“The administration should make sure that representation of CAPS workers matches the demographics of Penn’s population at least. It’s definitely within their reach,” Clark said.
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