Health and Counseling Services for All

February 04, 2016

Sarah Neill

A message from the President's Office by Sarah Neill, VP for Student Affairs/Associate Provost

This week, Sarah Neill, VP for Student Affairs/Associate Provost, and I want to share information with you about our health and counseling services at Simmons. The topic of increasing access to mental and physical health services was one of the ten demands put forward by an organized group of undergraduate students of color: the ‘Students of Color Inclusion Council’ (SOCIC). In this “Thoughts from the President” message, we hope to inform, offer context, and share our best thinking about how we can respond to the specific concerns that have been raised.


Student health is at the center of discussions on college campuses across the nation; and as it should be—student well-being is closely tied to high levels of satisfaction, academic success, and degree completion.

Here at Simmons, we understand that our students may face numerous challenges in their daily lives that impact their quality of life and their academic progress. We observe students stressed from workload, economic challenges, significant illness, prior traumas, strained relationships, and a range of family stressors. A good number of our students are the first to attend college in their families, and have unique perspectives and support needs. Finally, our community is not immune to disturbing and destructive national and world events—acts of terror, shootings, racism, and islamophobia—and these may take a considerable toll on our physical and mental well-being.

With these myriad factors in mind, we strive for a multifaceted approach to fostering student wellness. Our Counseling and Health Centers strive to provide accessible, high quality, and culturally sensitive care for a diverse student body. In addition to offering care, the Centers often partner with departments on programming and outreach that promote student health and well-being, such as stress management, nutrition, and sexual health.

As we consider the topic of increased access to mental and physical health services, a critical first step is to establish a formal channel for student feedback and input to review, evaluate, and as needed, modify our services and programs. While we have routinely sought feedback from students who have used our services, we must also reach those who have not to better understand how our services are perceived and understood. Often perception can be construed as reality, and we need to learn if there are barriers to seeking care, and to address those barriers.

We will review our hours of service and delivery methods. When, where, and how we provide care for students should be regularly evaluated. Understanding barriers for students seeking care should be factored into this assessment. We intend to consider the location of our health center, currently on the residence campus, that may present a barrier for undergraduate commuters and graduate students.

In our efforts to support our increasingly diverse student body, we must work diligently to attract and retain diverse staff and continue to invest in ongoing training and education to prepare our clinical staff to offer the highest quality, culturally competent care for students.

We will continue to sponsor collaborative programming between the Health and Counseling Centers and direct outreach in order to promote optimal health and well-being of our students. This outreach should be dynamic and evolve to reflect the needs of students.

While important to highlight our existing commitment and efforts to support students, we can always do better. Listening intently to student voices, particularly those of the Students of Color Inclusion Council is an important first step. Paying careful attention to evolving demographics, what is happening on our campus and in the world around us, is essential if we are to be effective in supporting student health and wellness.

Before we close, we would like to ensure that all members of the community are aware of the full set of offerings of the Counseling Center, the Health Center and our Health & Wellness programming.

Counseling Center

The Simmons Counseling Center, located in the Palace Road building on the academic campus, is comprised of licensed social work and psychology clinical staff, and offers training to seven clinical interns. The Center is open on weekdays, offering short-term counseling, assessment, and referrals to community providers and specialists, and after-hours emergency consultation for our staff who are supporting students in crisis. The Center also offers walk-in hours each day for students with emergency needs.

The Counseling Center has a dedicated Outreach Coordinator, who works with counseling staff and Center interns to offer groups for students (including a Queer People of Color support group and a number of stress reduction groups). The Counseling Center has presence at events such as the Clothesline Project and Take Back the Night, and collaborates with a variety of student groups. As an example, an intern facilitated a Home for the Holidays group with the undergraduate LGBT student organization, the Alliance.

Counseling staff are trained in culturally competent practice and are committed to practicing from a culturally competent, social justice, anti-oppression lens. They seek to understand and work with students in a holistic manner, attending to the context of their lives (which includes their social identities) and refrain from diagnosing and pathologizing student concerns and experiences.

Weekly staff meetings often focus on integrating social justice into clinical practice and considering the ways that the larger culture impacts our students’ experiences. Each recruited intern class represents the diversity of our student body. For the past several years, the Counseling Center has had two women of color on staff and three interns who have identified as women of color.

Health Center

Located on the residence campus, our Health Center is staffed with board-certified physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, a nutritionist, and trainees. The Health Center is open weekdays, offering primary and urgent care, and an after-hours provider who is on call on evenings and weekends. The Center also offers nutrition counseling, referrals for specialized care, and prescriptions that can be filled at local pharmacies. Each year, our Health Center offers a free flu clinic for the Simmons community in conjunction with the Nursing Program, and it supports our community by offering critical guidance, communication, and management to prevent the spread of infectious illness.

Our Health Center staff comes to Simmons from internal medicine practices where they had prior experience working with diverse populations. Staff attends annual meetings of college health professionals that address health issues of specific diverse populations and health equity in general. In addition, our staff has sought training to providing sensitive care for victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence, as well as medical care for gender non-conforming patients. The Health Center currently has one person of color who is a trainee, and a provider and two per diem staff members who identify as lesbian.

Additional Health & Wellness Programming

Through our programs in Health Education, we offer opportunities for students to make social connections and be physically active through a broad range of activities such as Zumba, meditation, African Dance, and yoga classes, as well as outdoor activities including biking and hiking. With support from a cadre of student wellness ambassadors, programs are offered that encourage positive body image, educate about sexual health and alcohol and drug use, and other important health matters and self-care strategies.

Our Violence Prevention program offers programming and support for healthy relationship development, recognizing unhealthy patterns in relationships, and advocacy for students who have experienced interpersonal violence. Guidance on how to support friends and bystander intervention programs are also offered throughout the year. Through a peer education program, ‘Betsy’s Friends,’ students educate their peers on these critical topics and plan an annual Clothesline Project to honor victims of domestic violence.

Our Spiritual Life team promotes spiritual development and important interfaith opportunities, and space for our students to explore their faith, for prayer and reflection, and meaning-making. This has been especially important in light of recent national and world events.

We look forward to continued work on this critical aspect of the student experience at Simmons. Thank you for reading.