Fort Lewis College has actively realized its commitment to a community of care by expanding the Counseling Center and integrating campus-wide services to serve student needs. This expansion and integration augment the student-centered work that the Center has done for decades.
“I’ve been here since 1990, and the Counseling Center has always had consistent, high-quality clinical care,” said Deborah Allen, assistant director of the Counseling Center. “But there’s been a renewed commitment to mental health and student wellness, and there’s been more funding made available for us to add staff and increase our capacity over time.”
In the last 15 years, the staff size of the Counseling Center has grown from six clinical staff to eight, and it has also added the position of Professional Advocate & Case Manager to improve follow-up and outreach to patients. The team also includes around eight graduate-level interns pursuing their master’s degrees in counseling.
“FLC has always been supportive of strong counseling services,” said Jen Shupe (Humanities, '04), the director of the Counseling Center. “I think the expansion of the Counseling Center has been a vision that people working in these areas on campus have held and wanted to see come to fruition for a few years. Students have also asked for increased access to counseling and supported increases in funding to make that happen.”
To realize that vision, the Counseling Center hired Gerald Shorty (Diné) to fill the newly formed role of assistant director of Diversity & Outreach Initiatives.
“I love my job because I get to do outreach to the campus community,” Shorty said. “I visit different organizations and populations and hear what they like about the Counseling Center and what areas we could improve in our day-to-day work.”
One of the things Shorty heard from the campus community was the need for Indigenous holistic treatment.
“The Indigenous students on campus appreciate the counseling services we offer, but they want forms of treatment that pertain to their spirituality and beliefs,” Shorty said. “This is a way for campus to recognize these students’ Indigenous identities, belief systems, and spirituality.”
To that end, Shorty connected with traditional healers and tribal leaders in the area and helped to facilitate prayers and blessings for New Student Orientation and move-in day. These services are just one small facet of the Counseling Center’s approach to mental health, and it’s not one-size-fits-all.
“I think this institution has grown to embrace, as it should, the diversity of its student body,” Shupe said. “There’s a big variation in what students might need as they go through their college career.”
To address the broad spectrum of students’ needs, the Counseling Center has made care accessible for all—starting with waiving Counseling Center fees. In addition to the counseling services offered in Noble Hall, they built a satellite location in the Rio Grande room at the Student Union for walk-ins, host monthly wellness workshops across campus, and station staff at events that may require counseling services.
" We understand that in order for students to feel comfortable to come in and be vulnerable in a counseling session, they have to see that we understand what student experiences are like. They have to see us participating in the larger campus community. "
In addition to these new services and locations, the Counseling Center has also helped to create new administrative infrastructure between other campus offices, like the Grub Hub.
“I know that if someone comes into my office and they’re not getting enough to eat, or they’re not safe in their home, they’re not going to make much progress,” Shupe said. “There’s a more streamlined referral system that’s in place now. We want students to know about those resources and make those connections on their paths to success.”
Shupe said none of this could be possible without the dedicated Counseling Center staff.
“We’re all in for our students. It’s a kind, caring, intentional group of people. It’s also not unusual for us to work late to make sure connections are made and students are served.”
Shorty echoed that sentiment and also observed the great importance of the Counseling Center’s work.
“It’s a privilege when students reach out to you and see you as someone who can help them,” he said.
“I like to think that when I walk away, they’re off making the world a better place, and maybe they’ll positively contribute to the world, society, or their community.”