Although the American Psychological Association published a study last month which indicated that black college students are less likely than their white counterparts to seek counseling, Penn’s Counseling and Psychological Services believes that the University defies this trend.
The findings — which were published in the February edition of the APA’s journal Psychological Services — were based on a longitudinal study that examined 6,504 adolescents and 4,881 adults.
A write-up of the study suggested that stigma, trust and unpleasant experiences were some of the primary factors that discouraged black students from seeking counseling services in college.
CAPS, however, does not think Penn mirrors these findings.
According to CAPS Director Bill Alexander, CAPS sees about 13.5 percent of the entire student body every year — a number that has been on the rise for the past decade. Of this percentage, Alexander said, approximately 15 percent or higher are black students.
“It’s hard to know exactly, but we do know that African-American students are represented at least as well as the typical Penn student,” if not more so, he added.
Alexander believes the reason behind this is “not an accident,” attributing it to factors like hiring an ethnically diverse staff at CAPS as well as revamped outreach efforts.
“The outreach portion of CAPS has been working for about 20 years to hammer away at the stigma associated with seeking help at CAPS and has been able to form really strong bridges with Makuu,” the University’s black cultural center, he said.
Alexander added that the same is true with the Latino community at Penn. Recently, he said, CAPS has worked to build a strong relationship with La Casa Latina, the cultural resource center for Latino students.
“For years, it’s been a growing initiative to work with minority groups,” he said.
However, Alexander acknowledged that some minorities — including international students and Asian students — remain “significantly” underrepresented among those who seek CAPS services.
To combat these gaps in representation, CAPS recently hired an international specialist from China to work with international students. It also plans to partner with the Office of International Programs’ International Student and Scholar Services as well as the Greenfield Intercultural Center.
College freshman Meron Zeru, the political co-chair of UMOJA — the black student umbrella organization at Penn — said she was “not surprised at all” to learn of the APA’s findings. Zeru explained that there is “a major disparity” between the perception of counseling in the black community as opposed to the white community.
“There’s definitely a huge stigma associated with going to therapy,” she said. “In my experience … in the black community, if you have a therapist you usually don’t tell people because it’s indicative of not being able to handle your own problems.”
Zeru believes that “although there have been many efforts initiated by CAPS and the Women’s Center, Penn is not too different from the national trend.”
College senior Phylicia McCalla, the treasurer of Multicultural Greek Council African-American interest sorority Delta Sigma Theta, agreed.
McCalla, who helped to plan a presentation on mental health for the chapter’s recent Delta Week, observed that of the more than 20 who came to the event, only three were black males.
However, McCalla remains hopeful that Penn will do its part to encourage black students in need of counseling to utilize Penn’s resources.
“I see our program as a means of forming a bridge between the black community and the mental health services provided on campus,” she wrote in an email.Comments powered by Disqus
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