Thursday, May 3, 2007

News: There to Help

Where to Go When Things Get Rough

Noel Garrett, director of Student Support and Crisis Management. Photographed by Nadia Chaudhury.

By Nadia Chaudhury

Noel Garret works twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Armed with his pager and cell phone, he is constantly available to deal with problems that arise for students at The New School.

Garret has been the director of Student Support and Crisis Management (SSCM) for three years. SSCM, along with Counseling and Health Services at The New School, deal with students who need help: physical, mental, emotional or some combination of the three. Students can turn to any of these offices if they feel they want to talk or get some answers.

For his part, Garrett offers anxiety-ridden students a place to sit down and just say, “I am overwhelmed.”

Garrett works closely with Eric Garrison, director of Health Education, who years ago chose to work at The New School over Virginia Tech—the site of the recent tragedy where a student gunman slaughtered students and faculty. Garrison’s key objective is to educate students about their mental and physical health. The lessons he teaches tend to be preventative, in order to avert any future harm.

“Our goal is to create a healthy student, not for now,” Garrison explained, “but forever.”

Common issues New School students face include eating disorders, anxiety, symptoms of bipolar disorder and depression. These issues, Garret said, are common among college students. According to the National Health Assessment, the top three issue that New School students face are stress, anxiety and depression.

Garrison stressed the importance that all students should feel comfortable seeking help. “There’s a myth that only people who are in dire need of help go to counseling services,” Garrison said. “One of the things that I do is I try to tell everybody that the happiest, healthiest straight-A student should be in counseling right now, to stay that way.”

“If you do have a mental illness, you could still function as a student and graduate,” he added.

Garrett’s office is next to Counseling Services, Financial Aid and Housing on the fifth floor of 79 Fifth Avenue. Rather than send students twenty streets away, the common location “takes the legwork away,” Garrison said, which makes getting help more accessible.

University offices, faculty and even other students refer students to Student Support. Garrett works with students, faculty and staff to identify when someone needs help and then reach out to that person.

During regular workshops, administration and faculty learn how to deal with potential situations. They study the science and symptoms of depression. They also learn to pick up on signs that indicate a student might not be well—like if a loyal student is suddenly absent for three classes. In this case, the faculty member will approach a student and ask if everything is okay.

“It’s really a conversation about identifying a student who may be having some difficulties, for some reason or another, before it becomes problematic,” said Linda Reimer, Senior Vice President for Student Services.

The New School coordinates with a number of outside programs, such as drug rehabilitation centers. The dormitories have protocols set in place with local hospitals, Garrett said. Also, the university is affiliated with New York City police precincts. If needed, someone from Student Support will walk a student over to the police station and be present as the student files a police report, just so the student is not alone.

In case of any health issue, there is nurse phone line (212-229-1671) available at any hour of the day. With this service, a registered nurse can direct students to a local hospital, pharmacy, or any other location they might need. Students can also call if they are off-campus or out of New York City.

During freshman orientation at undergraduate divisions in the university, information about Student Support is given to new students and parents. This includes different types of incidences that occur within New School grounds, which mostly consist of drugs and alcohol.

However, not every freshman attends orientation.

“We’re not blind,” Garrett said. “Students are going to experiment.” He understands that New York City is The New School’s campus. This means that many incidents will occur outside New School grounds. With that in mind, Student Support also educates students on how to deal with “uncompromising situations.”

The main lesson, as Garrett puts it, is to “be careful all the time.”

Last Spring, Lang student Ariella Goldberg dealt with Student Support. Though it was helpful, she discovered it could also be an arduous process. Returning to the 20th Street dormitory after spring break, she found her room in disarray—laundry spilled all over the floor, furniture overturned, unwashed dishes, misplaced items, a missing digital camera and more.

Goldberg and her three other suitemates suspected that the fifth suitemate—a Lang sophomore who was the only one with a key—of foul play. They turned to Student Support. Each suitemate had separate meetings with staff and discussed their role and experience of the incident. Then, they each had to write a personal account.

Acknowledging the process was necessary, Goldberg said. “We were fine doing it only because we hoped it would better improve our living situation,” she said.

In the end, the suspected suitemate moved out of the dorm, but remained in housing at the university.

“We were furious. We felt like our voices only got us so far in the process,” she said. “When we said that we did not feel comfortable with her still living in our [dorm], we felt as though the school should have believed us and taken care of the situation much quicker.”

“This office is about the students,” Garrett said. “We’ll catch more of those people who fall under the radar,” Garrett said, “before they fall.”

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