University questions UCC fee structure

The University is re-examining the University Counseling Center fee structure after a junior committed suicide on campus last month.

The decision to start actively discussing ways to eliminate the fee – a longtime source of disgruntlement at GW – comes after junior Ismail Ginwala was found dead in his City Hall residence hall room on April 13.

“We understand and have heard the concerns that students and parents have raised about the cost of UCC individual counseling services,” Senior Associate Dean of Students Mark Levine said. “We are committed to reviewing our budget model with others in the University administration and attempting to develop ways to make UCC services even more accessible and affordable to undergraduate, graduate, distance and professional students.”

GW charges students $50 per counseling session after an initial free session at the UCC, offering a reduced fee for students facing financial problems. Only 6.7 percent of university counseling centers nationwide charge for personal counseling, according to the 2010 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors.

“Students should never let their financial concerns prevent them from getting the support they need for themselves or their friends,” Levine said. “We will always work to find alternative solutions.”

Student Association Executive Vice President Ted Costigan said he suggested a ‘three free’ policy to replace the current first session free policy. He plans on getting more involved in the issue this summer.

“If you look at most counseling programs, most students only go three times,” Costigan said. “But the reality is the money has to come from somewhere and I understand that.”

Active Minds President Rachel Krausman said she’s happy with the progress the University is making on the issue of the counseling fee.

“We definitely think the counseling should be more affordable and accessible for students. They’ve already begun the discussion figuring out where money would come from to make the Counseling Center free of charge,” Krausman said.

She said a new Student Association committee will likely form over the summer and throughout the fall semester to restructure the fees.

Mental health issues around the country are on the rise for college students, The University of California, Los Angeles found after a survey of 200,000 freshmen. The survey found a 12 percent drop since 1985 in the number of freshman students who rated their emotional health as “above average.”

Costigan, also a house proctor, said he’s been approached by residents in the past who wanted to go to University counseling but never went because they didn’t want to pay.

The University is also considering alternate methods to address mental health issues on campus.

Dages added that UCC partners with student organizations to provide education and address issues regarding depression and suicide prevention.

Dean of Students Peter Konwerski said the University intends to discuss mental illness, making it a more comfortable issue for students to talk about openly in efforts to reduce the stigma associated with the topic.

“Our mission has been and will continue to be focused on providing as much education information outreach and support as possible to help the campus address the range of mental health concerns that impact our community,” Konwerski said.

Following the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, the University formed a Committee on Campus Safety and Security in order to review campus safety, mental health and violence prevention.

In January 2008, the committee said in a report summary that “GW has in place very good policies and procedures to address mental health emergencies and violence prevention.”

The committee made nine recommendations, including standardizing GW’s medical and mental health services and treatments, improving information gathering and handling of “high-risk” individuals and possibly creating an amendment or clarification to the D.C. mental health law.

“The task force fulfilled its mission and did not meet afterwards,” University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said.

In 2004 the University faced harsh criticism for suspending a student who saught mental health treatment at the UCC. GW denied any wrongdoing in a response to the student’s breach of confidentiality lawsuit.

Last year, Cornell University saw a total of six student suicides during the academic year. In response, Cornell encouraged openness on the issue of mental health and has put several measures in place to respond to the clear mental health issues on campus.

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