University and student leaders from Florida A&M University (FAMU) joined the Florida Board of Governors, police chiefs, mental health counselors, college deans, student leaders, and presidents from Florida’s 11 other public universities on Wednesday to advocate for funding of student-centered programs associated with mental health services and campus security. The event served as the launch of the “Safer, Smarter, Stronger” initiative, created by the Board of Governors to demonstrate the return on investment for each of Florida’s public universities’ top legislative priorities.
In light of the new “Safer, Smarter, Stronger” initiative, FAMU administrators, researchers, and faculty members are calling attention to the need for additional funding for mental health programs, counseling, security services, and related research on college campuses.
“FAMU has emerged as a leader in bringing unique mental health and safety programs to our campus and underserved communities,” Robinson said. “We are focused on identifying additional opportunities to support our students, faculty, and staff in environments that are safe and promote ‘Excellence with Caring,’ the cornerstones of our existence.”
FAMU is asking the Florida Legislature for additional support for its efforts to offer students more streamlined services and programs via a one-stop-shop through its new Student Affairs Building.
Set to be completed in the summer of 2019, the center will house counseling programs, health services, the Center for Disability Access and Resources, a police sub-station, and other wrap-around support services all in one building.
“Equipping students with all of the tools they need to not only be successful but also to thrive is an essential component of our legislative efforts this year,” said William E. Hudson Jr., Ph.D., FAMU’s vice president for Student Affairs. “The Student Affairs Building is a necessary student-centered approach that enhances and modernizes the campus experience, which improves persistence to graduation.”
Anika Fields, Ph.D., FAMU’s director of Counseling Services and member of the International Association of Counseling Services’ Board, underscored the need for additional funding to support mental health programs and services.
“Since the mid-1990s an increasing number of students have come to college with serious mental health issues. In order for them to have a chance at being successful in college, they need continued mental health services,” said Fields. “Students who complete our satisfaction survey each semester say that counseling has kept them in school and contributed to their academic success.”
FAMU’s efforts to meet this demand include individual, group, and couples counseling, as well as special programs and training that focus on victim advocacy, safety therapy, self-esteem promotion, and psychiatric consultation.
Fall 2016 FAMU graduate Donovan Harrell, who was impacted by suicidal ideation before and during college, said that participating in programs like the FAMU Counseling Services Suicide Awareness Walk during his freshman year were helpful. As a student journalist, the event was a stepping-stone to him writing and speaking about mental health while facing his own challenges.
“There were numerous personal obstacles I had to overcome, all of them stemming from mental illness,” said Harrell about the need for college students to have support for their mental health needs. “I was one of the fortunate ones. There are many that aren’t as fortunate as me. (Graduation) was truly an achievement for me as someone who once thought I wouldn’t live to see the day.”
In addition to the support he received through external health care, Harrell said that having access to student programs was also beneficial to helping him manage mental illness.
“The FAMUan (the University’s on-campus student newspaper) provided me with a healthy support group in the form of my coworkers and professors. It gave me a sense of purpose that helped me cope,” said Harrell, who is now a full-time political journalist.
Through the research and training provided by the FAMU Center for Ethnic Psychological Research and Application and its Mental Health First Aid programs, professors like Jackie Collins Robinson, Ph.D., are making strides toward more effectively promoting mental health literacy and improving overall behavioral and mental health on campus and nationally to help more individuals like Harrell. Collins Robinson explained that new data reveals a growing need for mental health support nationally.
“A recent survey of American college freshmen by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA showed that emotional health is at its lowest in three decades,” Collins Robinson said. “The sooner mental health conditions are recognized, and appropriate interventions are provided, the more likely it is that these students will go back to functioning well and will matriculate through college.”
In addition to its mental health programs, FAMU has also implemented new technology to help students have a safer on and off campus experience. Terence M. Calloway, FAMU’s chief of police, said that an increased investment in campus security by universities and the legislature is necessary for student success across the board.
“With services like our new LiveSafe app we’re able to leverage technology to communicate directly with students, faculty, and staff who need assistance immediately,” said Calloway. “The app allows us to respond to safety concerns and hazards in real-time and receive and share information more quickly via text, photo, and video in an emergency situation. Having additional funding for our security efforts will allow us to put more programs like this in place.”
Learn more about LiveSafe at http://www.famu.edu/index.cfm?PublicSafety&LiveSafeapp.