When Doug Scott abruptly departed from his position as a counselor at the University of Dallas on Oct. 24, his absence raised many questions about the future of the UD counseling center. Five days later, Provost Dr. Jonathan Sanford sent an email to undergraduates asserting that Doug’s departure would not diminish the UD counseling program’s “outreach to all students.”
The counseling program has now received a new counselor, gained more hours and expanded counseling spaces, but questions still remain as the student demand for counseling increases.
Sanford recently hired Johnathan Sumpter as the male counselor replacement for Scott. Sumpter was interviewed by Sanford and staff members of the Office of Student Affairs (OSA), and on Nov. 8, Director of Student Affairs Seth Oldham announced his hire.
Sumpter was an undergraduate seminarian at UD for two years, and though he ultimately discerned the vocation of marriage and received degrees in psychology and counseling, he credits UD as playing a pivotal role in his formation as a young adult.
Sumpter said his family was poor, and he came from a small town in the Texas Panhandle.
“We didn’t have access to the same level of education or the resources that I was afforded here,” Sumpter said. “Who knows what would have happened had I not come to UD.”
“UD opened my mind to an intellectual understanding that I had never imagined,” Sumpter added. “I have always loved UD.”
Oldham said that it is important to have a male counselor at UD, as some students may feel more comfortable with a counselor of their own gender.
UD’s counseling staff also includes female counselors Vanessa Garcia and Jennise Urbina. Urbina was hired last month and will stay until the end of the spring semester, according to Garcia.
“At the very least, we want to provide students with the choice [of a counselor of their own gender],” Oldham said.
Oldham also stressed the importance of the Counseling Center recently increasing its availability from 45 hours a week to 70 hours a week in response to a surge of students seeking assistance for mental health issues at UD.
Sanford said that the current amount of requests for counseling is “unprecedented” in UD’s history.
“Our job is to make sure that our students’ needs are met with compassionate and professional care,” Sanford said.
Sumpter said that suicide rates among students everywhere have risen dramatically in recent years, and there are several factors that put young adults in unusually high danger of psychological distress.
According to the 2017 Annual Report for the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, anxiety and depression have immensely increased as “primary concerns” for college students seeking counseling nationwide. These two concerns, far more than other issues such as relationship problems or academic difficulties, vastly contribute to a serious national increase in urgent needs for counseling.
Sumpter said that the increase in requests for counseling services also arises in part from the progress society has made towards the destigmatization of mental health issues.
“However, destigmatization can increase the demand, and the systems that serve that demand aren’t always able to meet the need immediately,” Sumpter said.
The increase in demand of counseling has led to an expansion for counseling hours, but the administration is currently struggling to find the space necessary to maintain these hours. At present, the three counselors share two offices in the Counseling Center. If both offices are in use for appointments, the third counselor will meet with their client in an office space provided by Campus Ministry, according to Oldham.
This space will be used until Dec. 12, but a consensus has not been reached about the counseling program’s expansion next semester. Sanford said that in the meantime, measures will be taken to protect privacy in the temporary space in Campus Ministry.
The physical expansion of the counseling program is a problem that Sanford, Campus Ministry, OSA and the counselors are trying to solve.
“There are many factors for this expansion that we are concerned about,” Sumpter said. “One concern obviously is for space, but perhaps more importantly, another concern is ensuring that the needed privacy and security of the students seeking services are met.”
While the current physical situation of the Counseling Center is less than ideal, Sumpter passionately encouraged students to seek counseling for their own wellbeing.
“Getting help is something we all need and we all deserve,” Sumpter said. “Facing fears is strength, not weakness. You are worth it. I’ve been there, in your very chair in Lit Trad. I changed my story. So can you.”