Letter to the Editor: Dawn LaFrance Responds to Effort to Further Diversify Mental Health at Colgate

Dear Colgate Community,

The Colgate Counseling Center recently received feedback from Inclusive Colgate during an open forum and the Student Government Association in a Resolution for Further Diversification of the Mental Health at Colgate. Both student groups asked for a diversification of our staff. Additionally, Inclusive Colgate recommended that we expand our facilities and improve the accessibility of our offices as well as increase the funding for teletherapy, such as BetterMynd, until we have a more diverse counseling center staff. 

The Counseling Center team shares your passion for supporting the psychological needs of all members of the student body, and we would like to share some information about the work we have been doing, and the steps we are taking in the future.   

While the Colgate Counseling Center is well-staffed according to the International Association of Counseling Standards (IACS) with a larger staff than many other universities our size, we know there is always room for improvement. We also agree that it would be ideal to diversify our staff to be representative of the various student populations at Colgate. We are focusing on doing this with the Dean of the College division as a whole, and as we open positions at the Counseling Center in the future we plan to focus on diversification. We have explored several options to work towards this goal including hiring an adjunct counselor for additional hours and telecounseling options through BetterMynd in collaboration with President Casey and Dean McLoughlin to provide access to counselors in other areas of New York state. We are now in conversations about increasing funding for students who wish to use the online counseling platform, BetterMynd.

We continue to focus on improving the multicultural competency of the Counseling Center staff in order to best position our team to assist all students. Colgate has provided the resources for our staff to attend national conferences and workshops focused on multicultural competency, and we have two weekly professional development team meetings where the topic of focus often includes supporting our diverse populations in all of their intersectional identities. The counseling team has also revised our mission and vision statements to align with our values in advocacy and social justice.

The accessibility of our facilities is also important to us. We have been working with the Facilities Department this year to improve access to Conant House, and we are discussing a project which will widen the main door and add a ramp to accommodate wheelchair access. Haven, which opened in Curtis Hall in 2016, was also designed with accessibility in mind.  

Last year, the Counseling Center served 22 percent of the student body and worked with 52 percent of the graduating class at some point during their tenure at Colgate. These numbers are significantly higher than national averages. Of the students who sought counseling this year to date, approximately 26 percent identify as students of color and another 8 percent are international students. Further, 13 percent of students using our services identified as LGBTQ, 12 percent as first generation students and 12 percent as having a disability. These demographics are consistent with the identities of students who sought services from our office in previous years.  

We understand that students may feel most comfortable seeking help from a counselor who has an identity assumed to be similar to their own, but we also note that the research in this area suggests that counselors with different identities can also be supportive for underrepresented groups. According to meta-analyses conducted by Cabral and Smith (2011) and Shin and colleagues (2005), clients may have a stronger preference for and perception of therapists who match their race or ethnicity; however, the match between race/ethnicity of the therapist and client have little or close to no effect on treatment outcomes. This suggests that students may not seek counseling due to their perceptions of helpfulness from our current staff, but once they decide to utilize our services, it can be very helpful. 

We value the privilege to serve all members of the Colgate community, and are open to feedback about any barriers that may inhibit students from using our office as a resource. In this vein, we would love to work closer with students to consider ways to bring more awareness to issues of mental health. Advertising campaigns about the services offered at the counseling center or focus groups to elicit suggestions to improve perceived accessibility may help us do that.

Again, we appreciate the concern and focus on mental health issues. We want all students to thrive while at Colgate, and their mental health is a significant piece of this goal. 


Dr. Dawn LaFrance; Director, Counseling and Psychological Services