After Students Organize, Wesleyan Hires New CAPS Staff

“In addition to reduced wait times for initial appointments, as well as more regular ongoing appointments, we expect the increase in staffing will improve comprehensive services for sexual violence prevention and treatment and allow the team to continue building stronger relationships with marginalized students and student groups through outreach activities.” – Dean Whaley


Yesterday afternoon, Dean Mike Whaley sent out an all-campus email informing the student body that an additional full-time psychotherapist will be joining CAPS in the fall of 2017. This comes after the announcement of the hiring of a full-time APRN after more than a semester without a prescriber (part-time or full-time) on campus.

According to Whaley’s email, the new hires “will improve comprehensive services for sexual violence prevention and treatment and allow the team to continue building stronger relationships with marginalized students.”

The email, however, leaves out any discussion of the student-organized campaign and WSA resolution from last semester that originally proposed expansions in CAPS. Read past the jump for the full text of Dean Whaley’s email and more context on the student efforts that made this new staff position a reality.

Over the summer, Wesleyan’s former APRN, Katrina Varzos left her position at CAPS to pursue a full time employment opportunity. The APRN is the only person in CAPS legally qualified to prescribe psychoactive drugs. At the time of the departure, the APRN position was a part-time position at Wesleyan.

Conversations about the hardships caused by not having a prescriber on campus began to surface after The Boston Globe informed students that former Dean of Students, Scott Backer, had a history of sexual misconduct. During the WhoRunsWes town hall on October 4, 2016, several students brought up the absence of an APRN and overall lack of adequate services in CAPS as a particular point of pain in the student body and contention with the administration.

On October 7th, Director of CAPS Jennifer D’Andrea sent an all-campus email concerning the APRN vacancy, stating that “since our last provider stepped down we have conducted two searches which have failed to result in a new hire in this role.” In response to these two failed searches, the position was upgraded to a full-time position, and the search continued. Meanwhile, students were directed to off-campus providers to obtain refills on their prescriptions.

Later in October, students from several groups including the Wesleyan Student Union and the WSA formed the Wes Need CAPS petition and photo campaign. The campaign lasted from October 31 to November 4 and asked students to fill out an anonymous survey that asked several questions about individual experiences at CAPS, and participate in a photo campaign where students would write thoughts on a white board and have their photo taken. The petition called for several measures that would expand CAPS’ staff and funding.

Here are the four specific calls from the petition:

1. Hire two new, full-time psychologists.
2. Raise our half-time therapist up to full-time.
3. Approve the hiring of a full-time Advanced Practicing Nurse Practitioner (APRN).
4. Increase the CAPS operating budget for the first time in six years.

The petition received 922 signatures within the course of a week. The petition and the Wes Needs CAPS campaign heavily informed a WSA Resolution, introduced on November 6th and sponsored by Elizabeth Shackney ‘17 (Principal), Aliya Shecter ‘20, Paige Hutton ‘18, Sarah Lurie ‘17, and Nathaniel Warner ‘17. Entitled “Establishing Adequate Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Staffing Resolution,” the resolution referenced a range of troubling pieces of data on access to CAPS at Wesleyan and several anonymous student testimonies collected during the Wes Needs CAPS campaign.

Wesleyan had a 12% increase in total appointments from September/October 2015 to the same time in 2016. The average ‘wait-to-intake’ time was 10-11 days at Wesleyan. This is much higher than the wait times for our peer institutions. Amherst had an average wait time of 1.5 days, Williams had a 1-2 day average, and Trinity had a 1-2 day average.

Wes’ student to psychological services staff ratio was 494:1 at the time the resolution was drafted. This is somewhat comparable to the ratio at Trinity (400:1), despite Trinity having an average wait-to-intake time that was 1/10th that of Wesleyan’s. The ratios for Amherst and Williams were 208:1 and 269:1 respectively.

In the Appendix of the resolution, an anonymous student testimony referenced the difficulty of not having an APRN on campus in the wake of the news of the circumstances of Scott Backer’s firing:

Without a prescriber I have been scrambling to find someone to prescribe my antidepressants… Most Middletown prescribers are heavily booked because of the influx of Wes students seeking help. With the Scott Backer incident I’ve been having frequent panic attacks but no where to get anti-anxiety medication. The therapist I had been seeing at CAPS left, and I would have to wait two weeks to get an appointment with a new therapist.

Another referenced an experience where the lengthy wait times for non-crisis appointments actively discouraged them from seeking the care they needed:

I used CAPS for the first time this semester. I didn’t know how long the wait was until I tried to schedule a non crisis meeting after my first crisis meeting where I had to miss school because I was having a mental breakdown…When I tried to schedule another meeting the nearest time was a week later, and my next meeting was 2 weeks from that second meeting. By my third meeting I realized that if I could make it thru 2 weeks without getting the care I needed, maybe I’ll just be better off without it. When I walked into the third meeting my issues and past emotions that I needed help with didn’t seem relevant anymore. So it felt like a waste of both of our times. So I never had another meeting after that.

The resolution’s specific measures nearly mirrored the measures in the Wes Needs CAPS petition:

The Wesleyan Student Assembly,

  1. Calls upon Student Affairs to hire two new full-time clinicians housed in CAPS;
  2. Calls upon Student Affairs to increase the current half-time clinician position to a full-time position;
  3. Calls upon Student Affairs to increase the CAPS operating budget;
  4. Calls upon Student Affairs to investigate alternative measures to promote accessibility to services in the local community;

The petition, the WSA resolution, and the corresponding data and testimonials were presented to the Board of Trustees when they visited campus for their November meeting.

The WSA resolution from November stated that a new, full-time APRN would be hired for the Spring 2017 semester. Students received a public announcement of this hiring on January 30, where Dean Whaley sent an email announcing all new hires in Student Affairs. Katie Scheinberg was hired as a full-time APRN, and Seirra Fowler was hired as Director of WesWell.

This most recent update from Dean Whaley, announces that another full time psychotherapist will be added to CAPS staff starting in the Fall 2017 semester. They will join the rest of CAPS staff which includes 3 full time 10 month psychotherapists, 1 full time year round therapist, 1 part time 9 month therapist, 1 full time year round postdoc, 1 full time APRN, and the full time CAPS director.

This falls short of the student calls for 2 more (not one) full time psychotherapists and an upgrade of the part-time position to full time. We haven’t received word as to whether the CAPS operating budget will be increased apart from the payroll increases that the new hire would necessitate.

As stated at the beginning of this post, the email did not address the legion of student activism that no doubt directly resulted in these changes. This is really not cool, precisely because it—well, this is obvious, right? I’m just going to end this post by reminding y’all that a vast majority of progressive initiatives that end up receiving institutional support at Wesleyan began with student campaigns and activism. CAPS expansion, the creation of a Gender Resource Center, Sanctuary Campus measures, and gender neutral bathrooms are just a small fraction of the library of examples of this truth.

Here is the full text of Dean Whaley’s email:

Dear Students,

President Roth and I are pleased to announce additional staffing increases at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).  These enhancements will improve response times and expand services for students.

We’ve already announced that a full-time psychiatric advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) joined the staff earlier this month.  This new position replaces the previous part-time APRN, and will greatly enhance support for students using psychoactive medication.

A new full-time psychotherapist has also been approved for the start of fall semester. While the office will still adhere to a brief therapy model, the clinicians will be better able to tailor clinical care to individual student needs, including comprehensive wrap-around care and case management to high-risk students with complicated psychiatric issues.

In addition to reduced wait times for initial appointments, as well as more regular ongoing appointments, we expect the increase in staffing will improve comprehensive services for sexual violence prevention and treatment and allow the team to continue building stronger relationships with marginalized students and student groups through outreach activities.

Finally, CAPS also successfully enhanced its after-hours emergency response capability this year through a partnership with ProtoCall Services, which allows students in distress to speak directly with a licensed clinician 24/7.

CAPS offers critical support for students, and I’m pleased that we’ll continue to expand resources in this area in the coming year.  Please contact Dr. D’Andrea in CAPS with questions or suggestions.



Dean Mike Whaley

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