The UW-Eau Claire Counseling Services department is being recognized for their achievement in increasing their reach and involvement with diverse student groups as well as diversifying their own department.
The UW-System’s Board of Regents selects up to three individuals, departments, programs or teams who have implemented positive changes in their institutions. These changes are created to further success of underrepresented populations.
These populations can include students of color, students with disabilities, first-generation college students, international students and LGBTQ students.
The UW System website describes the Regents Diversity Award by quoting Regents Olivia Woodmansee.
“From an impressive pool of nominees, we selected three outstanding awardees for increasing opportunity and making a lasting impact on their UW campus communities,” Woodmansee said. “We are proud to recognize their exceptional dedication to expanding partnerships that support student success for all student populations.”
Riley McGrath, the Counseling Services director, spoke of some of the accomplishments that contributed to achieving the Diversity Award.
“We have started some services that are specific to students of color,” McGrath said. “Initially starting in 2018, we started a women of color group, that group has since transformed into a student of color group.”
They have been working closely with the Office of Multicultural Affairs, specifically having a counselor from the department partake in drop-in hours for students to get more information about Counseling Services. These procedures have created a 45% increase in participation of Counseling Services by students of color, McGrath said.
In order to further connect with students outside of the department, Counseling Services emphasizes the importance of attending events.
“Part of a way of connecting with students is to get outside of our office. We go to a lot of events that OMA puts on,” McGrath said. “Pre-COVID 19, there were a lot of cultural dinners that we would go to, to try and make connections with students outside the room.”
Ashley Walton-Beal, the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Coordinator for Counseling Services, said some of the activities that Counseling Services takes part in, look a little different now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of these recent activities include stress management courses with Pride and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, as well as movie nights with groups like the Black Students Association.
Counseling Services has taken on specific projects and ventures that contributed to receiving the award, McGrath said.
“Some of it was just doing some of our own internal work to look at ourselves as a department and things we could do to be more welcoming and inclusive,” McGrath said. “Another thing was being more intentional about hiring staff of color.”
The internal reworking the department has done has furthered their cultural competence, Walton-Beal said.
“One of things that I’m most proud of (about) our office is the work that is done behind the scenes that not everyone is privy to,” Walton-Beal said. “That would be a lot of staff’s own personal work that they’re doing.”
This personal work includes a self-assessment plan created by Walton-Beal that evaluates the multicultural competency of each staff member. This assessment is used to create a plan and goals to address biases and growth plans to improve themselves as counselors.
Both McGrath and Walton-Beal said the entire department was excited and honored to receive such a prestigious award.
“We’re definitely a caring profession and everyone is in it for the students so if this is something that helps the students or makes the students feel more comfortable, everyone is gonna be so pumped,” Walton-Beal said.
McGrath spoke on how hard Counseling Services has been working toward the university’s equity, diversity and inclusion goals. He said there are a lot of things that Counseling Services does behind the scenes that students aren’t always aware of.
“We worked really hard the last few years in increasing our access to students of color,” McGrath said. “To see that there is a 45% increase and then to see that it is being recognized by the Board of Regents is awesome.”
Counseling Services has many plans for the future to further their reach to students and connect with underrepresented students on campus. McGrath and Walton-Beal both said there is an upcoming project to help reduce the stigma on receiving help when it comes to mental health, specifically with students of color.
“With diversity work there’s no endgame,” McGrath said.
Walton-Beal also said there are some of the lesser known services the department offers such as conflict resolution, grief counseling and therapy or support groups. To better the mental health of all students, they also offer more interactive activities such as zen gardens, guided meditations and even making slime.
To learn more about Counseling Services or to get in contact with a counselor, check out the UWEC Counseling Services page or call (715)-836-5521 to schedule an appointment.
Shanahan can be reached at [email protected]