Serenity and Support: Conant House and Counseling Services at Colgate

Eliza Leal, Staff Writer

Conant House is a small abode located at the end of the road behind Drake Hall enshrouded by forestry. Deer often roam around this oasis, which is quite far removed from Colgate’s main campus and some of its stressors. Within the confines of this building, which was once a faculty home, lies a reception area on the first floor with counselor offices throughout and a group therapy room on the ground level. Even with the pandemic, Conant House and its counselors have maintained the serene quality of this building. 

Dawn LaFrance, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services and Sexual Violence Support, works closely with a team of counseling professionals to deliver mental health services to Colgate students. The office now offers both group and individual telehealth counseling as well as consultation services and outreach programming. When reflecting on her favorite aspects of Conant House, she remarked on its idyllic location and scenery that fosters a sense of creativity that the counselors of Conant House adopt in their work. She also noted the diversity of services offered at Conant House, including the Understanding Self and Others groups. 

“I am facilitating one of these this semester and the students who are working together in this group are so wise and encouraging of one another,” she shared. “They are willing to challenge each other and push one another to grow. Since this group has continued from last semester, we have been working together for several months and it is one of the highlights of my weeks.”

Christian Beck is a mental health counselor who works alongside LaFrance and is currently in his fifth year at Colgate. For him, the heart of “The Hobbit House,” as it has been informally dubbed, lies in its dynamic staff and the resilience of Colgate students.

“It has been an absolute privilege journeying with students through challenging (and now unprecedented) experiences,” he shared. “I’ve witnessed tremendous growth, unbelievable courage and the development of students’ sense of self during my time at Colgate.”

Conant House has offered a multitude of services in conjunction with other wellness groups on campus, such as Haven and the Shaw Wellness Institute. Senior Emily Metzger works as a Wellness Ambassador at the Shaw Wellness Institute. She works in collaboration with the counselors at Conant House to acquire important mental health information to share in Shaw’s Weekly Integrated Wellness email. She also has arranged collaborations for student programming.

“My favorite part of Conant House is that they have support groups for such a wide range of topics,” Metzger said. “They are a great resource to have when a student wants to work through something while being surrounded by others who are there to understand and support one another.”

The community within Conant House continues to build their services to further aid the student population in a more integrated and holistic way. Metzger shared one such advent of new programming that is set to begin in the Fall: a Peer Coaching initiative.

“As we speak there are steps being taken to expand counseling availability for students,” Metzger said. “This program will have a trained student worker available most days of the week at Shaw for one on one support for students who either cannot get in with the counseling center or who would prefer a peer to talk to about their concerns.”

The reiteration of the beauty of Conant House, its principles and its future programming is comforting but may come across as merely common rhetoric to some. Recent posts on the Instagram page @shareyourstorycolgate, a student-run account that publishes student claims anonymously, have surfaced arguing that counseling services have been lacking and not disseminating resources equitably to students, with particular criticism surrounding the center’s closure on weekends. LaFrance sympathized with the student body and offered some explanation to the frustration the student body is experiencing. 

“Due to limited resources in the surrounding area, we are responsible for providing most of the mental health services to Colgate students,” she said. “We work hard to get each student into an appointment as soon as we can. We sometimes have some difficulty accommodating students’ preferences if they only want to work with one counselor on the team or if they have limited availability due to their busy schedules. We have not had a waiting list and we have appointments each weekday available for students who are in crisis or cannot wait for a scheduled appointment. As the semester continues, we get increasingly busy but we have thus far been able to get each student who contacts us in for an appointment in a timely manner.”

Beck echoed these sentiments, adding that Colgate’s therapist-to-student ratio is lower than many of its peer institutions.

“Our mental health professionals have responded in an extraordinary manner to provide not only timely services, but compassionate mental health care for the emotional and developmental needs of all students,” Back said.

Conant House does have some limitations, and LaFrance and Beck are cognizant of the community’s frustrations. But they encourage students to continue strengthening their support networks while having in mind the resources available to them. They, along with their team of counselors, appear prepared to connect.

*Crisis/consultation hours are offered M-F from 1:30-4:30. Telehealth services appointments can be scheduled on the Counseling and Psychological Services tab on the Colgate University website.