The College of William and Mary Student Assembly passed its largest appropriation in seven years to provide funding for an additional staff member at the Counseling Center.
The SA passed the Student Mental Health Act, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Ruzic J.D. ’11 and Sen. Curt Mills ’13, Tuesday night, appropriating $57,000 from the consolidated reserve to fund the salary, benefits and search process to employ an extra psychologist at the Counseling Center for one year.
“We were able to do something that actually helps students in a real, substantive way,” Ruzic said. “I think student government does a lot of things that help a lot of students, but in very small ways. It’s great when we have a lot of our various missions — talking to the state government about more funding, talking to administrators about student life issues — but there’s very few things we do that so fundamentally help people.”
Ruzic first took interest in providing support to the Counseling Center while serving as SA vice president. He said he was surprised by data showing individual counseling sessions increasing 10 and 18 percent in the past two years, respectively. Group services increased more drastically, rising by 25 and 40 percent.
“Over the last two years, William and Mary has seen a staggering increase in the amount of people seeking help from the Counseling Center,” Ruzic said. “These problems have been building for a while.”
Ruzic and Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06 lobbied the Board of Visitors for more funding for the Counseling Center.
They were only partially successful in these efforts.
“[The BOV] understands that this is a serious issue,” Ruzic said. “They also understand that this is a very difficult economic time for the College, and there’s just not that much funding to go around.”
The new position involves multiple responsibilities, including providing some administrative support and working with students who need extra attention.
Ruzic said he decided to fund the counseling position through the SA to help cut down wait times.
Counseling Center Director Warenetta Mann said the new staffer will help the current waitlist situation, that the center not guarantee that wait time for second appointments would be eliminated completely by the addition of a new staff member.
She added that the proposition is not as easy as hiring a counselor.
“Finding a full-time counselor for one year is kind of difficult,” she said. “Typically, when we find a counselor, we will be doing a national search, and if you’re not able to guarantee people employment beyond a year, sometimes it’s easier to find someone who’s already in the local community and already established — and they may not want a full-time job.”
It would be different, Mann said, if the funding were secure beyond one year.
Ruzic said that the SA cannot continue to completely fund the position, noting that this one-time expenditure would use more than one third of the current consolidated reserve.
Instead, Ruzic and the SA Department of Health and Safety will lobby the administration to provide funding for the position beyond one year.
“Because this is such an important issue, I think by us covering the cost now, for the next year, when they see how much that really makes a difference in students’ lives, then we can convince them to pick up the cost at the end of next year,” Ruzic said. “Even if they don’t, it’s better to have students get help now, even if it’s only for a year, than to never get help.”
Ruzic said he thinks there is a good chance the administration will agree to fund the position after one year.
Mann, however, was more hesitant about whether or not the administration would help with funding, arguing it would change the relationship between the Counseling Center, which is fully funded by student fees, and the College.
“It’s a much bigger proposition than it sounds like on face value,” she said.
Nevertheless, Mann said she is thankful for the SA’s help.
“I think it’s really great that students are concerned enough about counseling and making sure that the Counseling Center is strong and an integral part [of] what’s available to students that they even thought to put us on their calendar,” Mann said. “It just means the world to us that they thought this was an important way to spend money.”