How the Health and Counseling Center is Responding to COVID-19

The global COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted all members of the Reed community, with the campus shutting down, classes moving online, and community members readjusting to life in quarantine. This process has been especially stressful for students, who are expected to finish out their coursework from wherever they are sheltering-in-place. While Reed has instituted a policy whereby students can (in some cases) opt to to take classes as Credit / No Credit, meaning a final grade of D is considered passing and their final grade will have no impact on their GPA, the faculty Committee on Academic Policy and Planning rejected a community-petitioned proposal for a Universal Pass system earlier this week, meaning the onus is still on students to complete their coursework amidst global calamity and in a new, non-academic environment.

With all this in mind, the Quest sat down with Health and Counseling Center (HCC) Staff Counselor Michelle Berry to discuss how the HCC is continuing to support students during this difficult time.

Berry emphasized that the HCC is still open for students who have been receiving counseling and are currently living in the area and that they are still taking in new students for a few counseling sessions with the understanding that the student will have to transition to another service when the school year ends. Attempting to offer remote counseling for students not in the Portland area, however, has been more challenging. Oftentimes, “[counselors] have to be licensed in the state that the student is currently in to do a counseling session,” Berry explained, and while this requirement has been relaxed in some states, it is still in place for many others. Instead, the HCC has been working to help students outside of Oregon connect with local mental health resources.

Berry emphasized that the Reed Counseling Hotline is still available 24/7 for all Reed students, no matter where they currently reside. The HCC is also providing some crisis support through Zoom or, if Zoom is not a possible option, in-person.

The HCC has also shifted its focus towards staff- and student-run groups, which allow students to stay connected through video conferences. Healthy Relationships Program Director Rowan Frost, for example, is working on two virtual groups: one focused on minding your mental health, and the second on managing grief and loss. Lee Russell, a Registered Nurse at the HCC, is also helping out with some local groups, one based on supporting trans students and the other a mutual aid group. 

For students who are not working with a counselor, the HCC has been focusing on informing students about how to manage stress and get coursework done during these uncertain times. Berry and Staff Counselor Jenni Leatham have been writing a twice-a-week advice column published in the Quest about working from home, transitioning to online classes, and creating a ‘new normal’ amidst the chaos of COVID-19. Above all else, Berry encouraged students to, if possible, have a specific place to do work in their residence, and to structure their days with planners and calendars to avoid losing track of time.

But Berry also explained that this is, simply put, a difficult time in which to get work done. “My mantra in my head right now is ‘we’re in a global pandemic, we’re in a global pandemic’… we can’t do it all, we’re going to do our best in this situation,” she explained.

Alongside responding to the ongoing global crisis, the HCC still has big plans for the upcoming school year. Chief among those is hiring a clinical director to oversee the counseling side of the HCC. In the Fall, Dr. Claire Haiman had been hired to fill that role, but she suddenly withdrew her candidacy two weeks before beginning work alongside Associate Dean for Health and Wellbeing-to-be Dr. Ximena Mejía. In a broad sense, the counseling side of the HCC also wants to do more student outreach, including running more student groups and hosting activities within dorms. “I want to be out in the college more,” Berry explained. “I want to be connected with students.”

Until then, Berry has been developing new strategies to keep herself focused and motivated while on lockdown with her family. She’s focusing on maintaining structure and getting physical exercise. “We’re getting out and hiking every single day… at least an hour and a half,” she said. Exploring the outdoors is both helping her stay healthy and preventing her from feeling too cooped up while on lockdown.

Above all else, Berry and the HCC want to hear from the student body about how they can support students, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and after. “We want to know how we can best support you,” she explained. “So emailing us, calling the HCC, all of those things are super helpful… We wanna do what’s going to work best for you.”

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