Counseling director: GW must consider student privacy when relocating center

As GW searches over the next year for a new University Counseling Center location, the head of that office said Thursday that the new spot must strike a balance between accessibility and anonymity.

UCC director Silvio Weisner said his top priority is keeping concealed the identities of students who seek counseling. The University announced three weeks ago that it plans to move the K Street office, as well as Student Health Services, closer to campus.

“A move closer to the center of campus has to keep in mind how we situate our physical space to maximize privacy and confidentially for students,” Weisner said. “How we’ll go about doing that remains to be seen.”

Administrators and students have pointed to UCC’s off-campus location as a big draw because students can seek help without worrying that they’ll be seen by their peers.

Weisner said the University could protect students’ privacy if the center is tucked in the corner of a campus building with solid doors instead of a wide glass entrance. He also said that if the center moves into a shared location with Student Health Service, it would “blur the lines” of which department students in the waiting room were going.

A committee charged with finding a location for the two departments started searching for a space this month, though officials have said a permanent move will likely be years away.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said the basement space in the “superdorm” project on H Street is one option. But officials have been leaning towards instead adding group conference rooms, performing space, a dining center or a mailroom.

Administrators have also discussed Tompkins Hall, though it would require significant remodeling. Konwerski has said the move would likely happen as part of a campus-wide shuffle because the ideal location is the Marvin Center, which as of now has no free space.

University President Steven Knapp said this month that the move would not displace academic or student space.

Weisner said the committee is also concerned that moving the location closer to students’ residence halls will drive a surge in requests for appointments – something the under-staffed center may not be able to handle.

GW’s staff of 18 is smaller than competitor schools such as New York University and the University of Southern California, which boast 46 and 31 staff members, respectively. Northwestern University also has 31 counseling staffers, while Duke University has 25.

Students have reported several-weeks-long wait times before an appointment was available over the last several years – an issue Weisner has tried to tackle during his first year as director.

The University has steadily increased UCC’s budget over the last two years, including increasing it by $150,000 this year to bring in specialized therapists.

Katie Duman, president of the student organization Active Minds, said that while anonymity is a big concern, a move closer to campus for UCC will help “decrease the stigma” of seeking help.

She said not enough students know the center exists because it is a few blocks off campus. But she also said she was concerned that the current staffing would not be apt to handle a large influx of students seeking help, and that she has been working with Weisner and other health officials to make sure it will be managed properly.

“That’s the largest thing to do. What do you do when you have this many people? That’s the first concern,” Duman said.

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