Photo courtesy of Illinois Tech SGA
Among the myriad projects that Illinois Tech’s Student Government Association (SGA) conducts to improve the state of campus life are the regular Town Hall forums where staff representatives from an Illinois Tech office or department host an open question-and-answer session where all students are welcome to ask anything they want.
The most recent Town Hall forum was held on Tuesday, April 2 during the lunch hour and saw the administration of the Student Health and Wellness (SHWC) answer a variety of both pre-submitted and audience questions. The panel consisted of Associate Vice Provost of Student Health and Wellness Anita Opdycke, Associate Director of Operations Melody McCray, and Assistant Director Christine Reh, with SGA Senator Derek Rhea moderating.
The first pre-submitted question that Rhea read out asked the panel why changes were made to student immunization requirements in the middle of the semester, leading to many students finding holds being placed on their accounts. Opdycke responded that one of the primary goals of the SHWC is to take all matters relating to public health seriously, which means that the center often has to review the requirements and compliance standards set forth by governing bodies. A recent change in Illinois state law led to this most recent immunization requirement change, which Opdycke also made clear had a deadline of January to meet. When asked whether or not the SHWC foresees any similar requirement changes in the future, Opdycke replied that there is “nothing we can predict, but we will continue to monitor.”
The next question Rhea read asked what the quickest and most effective way to reach the SHWC is, citing the concern among many students that the center is difficult to reach. The panel responded that either coming to the SHWC’s office on the third floor of the IIT Tower or calling directly at (312) 567-7550 are the best ways to make immediate contact. It should be noted that, when calling the SHWC and not getting an immediate answer, it is vital that students leave a voice mail and a number for the center to call back because the center’s caller identification infrastructure makes it impossible to call a number back without such a voice mail.
Rhea then asked whether or not the SHWC feels it is understaffed, which Opdycke replied that while the SHWC does not feel understaffed, it is missing staff due to high turnover rates over the past two years. Thus, it is difficult at times for the SHWC’s administration to properly assess its staffing needs, but Reh concluded this answer with the statement that the SHWC has a history of using statistics and other data-based metrics to make cases to the university that increases in staff or other resources are necessary, all based on student demand.
Mental health was the subject of the next series of questions from Rhea, prompting the panel to provide a slew of information about the SHWC and its mental health services, including how a new mental health staff member has been added to the SHWC and has already begun seeing students and that a second new staff member is in the process of being brought on.
Reh also provided a quick outline of the mental health services provided by the SHWC, including 50- to 60-minute individual counseling sessions, 30-minute case management sessions focusing on coping skills and solution-focused techniques, and walk-in triage appointments that, if the need is assessed through an intake form, can have a student be seen either that day or the next one. In addition, students who wish to begin recurring services (either counseling sessions or case management sessions) will also need to take an hour-long intake appointment that asks questions to develop a treatment plan.
Finally, on the topic of mental health, Rhea asked the panel what students and student organizations can do to help with morale and mental health awareness on campus, to which the panel responded that simply “talking about it” can oftentimes go a long way. Mental health stigma, according to the panel, is a very real and very prevalent issue, and having conversations about mental health and other related issues can help to change this narrative. Reh also advised the audience to be mindful about these conversations and to focus on being empathetic and validating during them. Finally, being aware of the resources on campus (including the SHWC) can mean all the difference in reaching out to a student in need of help.
The floor was then opened to questions from the audience, and the first question asked the panel about the confidentiality policy of the SHWC. The panel responded that only students can ever make appointments at the SHWC for themselves, and anything that happens to a student is kept completely confidential except if a student demonstrates an “imminent risk of harm to yourself or to someone else.” In these circumstances, the SHWC will have to take measures to notify outside parties, such as the student’s emergency contact or Illinois Tech Public Safety. Similarly, if a student is hospitalized for any reason, the SHWC will heavily encourage contact be made with an emergency contact.
The next line of questions from the audience asked about the accessibility and services of the SHWC. While the panel believes that the current location of the SHWC in the IIT Tower is “in a good place” as it strikes a balance between being accessible to students and allowing a sense of privacy, the center is not equipped to provide higher levels of service, including radiology and helping with unique conditions such as anorexia or Crohn’s disease. However, the SHWC will take all measures to help refer students to external clinics and providers that will also accept student insurance.
The questions from the audience once again returned to the subject of mental health, with an audience member beginning by asking if the center could still take efforts to further improve upon the current three- to four-week wait period for an intake appointment to be had (which, compared to other universities, is on the better end). This prompted the panel to once again respond that “we’re always available to students” as the center has built-in triage appointment times that can be used to see a student almost immediately, if need be.
The center was also asked to clarify its no-show fees for appointments. The first time a student misses an appointment, a grace period is shown, but a second missed appointment leads to a $10 fee being charged for either medical or general therapy sessions. A no-show fee of $100 for an intake and $50 for a follow-up appointment is charged for a missed psychiatry appointment.
Further audience questions asked the possibility of having mental health screenings for incoming first-year students and other proactive mental health trainings for students. Regarding the first suggestion, Opdycke responded that having centralized mental health screenings for all incoming students would be “tricky” as there would be questions and liability issues with the usage of the results from these screenings. Meanwhile, regarding other mental health training sessions, Reh responded that the SHWC has held training sessions for resident advisors (RAs) in the campus resident halls, Greek life, and Illinois Tech Athletics to help these student subsets recognize mental health issues and know what resources are available to help.
Near the forum’s end, the panel was asked if students can obtain birth control from the SHWC, and this was given the response that the SHWC can provide prescriptions for birth control. However, this requires a meeting with a medical provider first.
In their final remarks, Opdycke, Reh, and McCray made it clear that their department is “constantly assessing the needs of students” and will continue to take in feedback and suggestions on how to better serve the student body. Located on the third floor of the IIT Tower, the SHWC is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Further contact info can be found online at https://web.iit.edu/shwc.
Photo courtesy of Illinois Tech SGA