Will NYU Improve the SHC Now?

NYU’s department of Counseling and Wellness Services has officially fallen below the national standard. Will this finally be the impetus for NYU to improve its mental health facilities?

Abby Hofstetter, Opinion Editor

I felt pretty hopeless at the end of last semester. WSN reported in May that the wait times between appointments from NYU’s Counseling and Wellness Services are dangerously above average. I also found that the SHC was understaffed: a comparison of the number of NYU’s counselors with the American Psychological Association’s guidelines for a healthy counseling session showed that there was no physical way for the SHC to adequately provide for the student body. I didn’t know if NYU’s wellness services would ever improve, and all signs pointed to no: quotes from the SHC were dodgy, comments from the university shifted blame and no change was happening. 

But at the start of the fall semester, the SHC’s staff page was updated, and things looked good. The page showed a much more robust Wellness staff; the site listed 70 staff members, including higher-ups and those employed at study-away sites. 50 were based in New York — a seven-person increase from May. It looked like NYU had finally listened to its students and taken steps toward improving its mental health resources. A variety of resources were now available: counselors specializing in gender and sexuality, in family-based trauma and in relationship concerns, among many others.

But yesterday, a WSN article reported that my impression was far from the case. Though the SHC had updated the page to include its newer staff members, it didn’t remove the names of former staffers from the site. While the site said that the SHC employed 70 staff members, 14 of them don’t work for NYU anymore. That’s 20% — one in five. The SHC had inflated its number of staff members.

According to the newly-updated webpage, not only does the SHC only employ 39 New York-based wellness professionals, but five of them are school- or program-specific. In reality, only 34 staff members are accessible to all of the students at NYU’s New York campus.

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The International Accreditation of Counseling Services states that at minimum, every university should have one full-time-equivalent staff member for every 1,000 to 1,500 students, “depending on services offered and other campus mental health agencies.”

Zoe Ragouzeos, the Executive Director of CWS, said in 2016 that as long as NYU is meeting the bare minimum, she’s satisfied. “The [IACS] recommends one full-time-equivalent professional staff member per every 1,000 to 1,500 students,” Ragouzeos said. “We are doing better than that.” The IACS also warns against falling below their standard — as the ratio of students to counselors increases, so do the wait times, the risk of lapse in provision of care to students with severe psychological problems and the liability risks. The only thing that decreases is the average student GPA. Ragouzeos did not mention this.

The SHC is not meeting the IACS’ standard anymore. Now that we know the accurate number of staff members, we’re able to do the math. According to the most recent data, NYU’s New York campus has a total enrollment of 51,847, meaning that the SHC has approximately one accessible wellness professional for every 1,524 students, which is below the IACS’ standards. Additionally, if each staff member were to work for 24 hours straight, they would only be able to provide each student with six minutes and 36.6 seconds of counseling per week.

There are two possibilities as to what happened when the SHC’s website was first updated. Maybe this was simply a clerical error. Maybe whoever uploaded the profiles of the new staff members just forgot to take down the old ones. Maybe these clerical errors go back as far as February 2016, when the first staff member left. Mistakes happen.

Or maybe the SHC administration knew that it was inflating the numbers. Maybe it saw that students had been riled up about its services — particularly its wait times — and didn’t want to put in the effort to fully fix the problem. Maybe it knew it would look good to have 70 staff members. Maybe it knew that by having 70 staff members, it’d look like it had taken student concerns into account. Maybe it knew that by having 70 staff members, it would look like it had put an emphasis on caring for students’ mental health — something it had been heavily criticized for in the past.

I don’t know how long the SHC’s staff numbers were inflated for, but the inaccuracies go back as far as February 2016. Am I supposed to believe that the staff page was updated every year to include new hires, but no one ever noticed that old staff profiles hadn’t been taken down? Am I supposed to believe that every time a new counselor was hired, someone went and added their profile, but no one noticed that profiles weren’t deleted after someone left? Am I supposed to believe that no one from the SHC ever looked at the staff page and noticed that their ex-colleague who had moved across the country two years ago was still listed as an employee? Am I supposed to believe that nobody from the SHC knew — at least noticed — that they were inflating their staff numbers?

Maybe now that the SHC has fallen below national standards, NYU will be inclined to fix it. Maybe now that the SHC has been forced into transparency, NYU will follow suit and increase transparency overall. Maybe now that the SHC’s lies have been made public, students will put more pressure on the university until it’s forced to improve its mental health services. But when NYU has fallen below its own standards in the past, it hasn’t seemed to mind. When NYU has been forced into transparency in the past, it’s responded with nothing more than the bare minimum. When students have put pressure on NYU in the past, the university has threatened them into submission. There seems to be no end in sight, and I’m feeling pretty hopeless. What will it take for NYU to finally improve the SHC?

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Abby Hofstetter at [email protected]

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