Colorado College is Taking Action to Improve Mental Health
Colorado College is committed to raising our focus on mental health on campus to the highest level. Only when all our students, staff, and faculty can learn, work, and live in an environment that fosters mental wellness can we provide students with outstanding liberal arts education experiences and the skills and habits to live healthy lives. Based on consolidated review of feedback from students, faculty, staff, and parents, CC developed a plan of action.
Our mental health and wellness work is divided into four areas:
- working with external expertise to help guide the college;
- new and existing resources for students, faculty, and staff;
- addressing stressors unique to the Block Plan, and;
- creating greater clarity and accessibility to resources in our communications and on our website.
Some of the actions the college is taking include the following:
- held a community conversation with the National Alliance on Mental Illness on Dec. 9
- joining the Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County developing guidance that includes absence for mental health as a part of the attendance and excused absences policy
- creating an anonymous reporting resource for a wide range of campus concerns
- working with community partners to explore peer-to-peer support services available to students
- connecting students with external mental health providers for in-person or 24/7 telehealth services
- addressing the rapidly changing compensation needs of our employees by increasing salaries, providing a one-time payment to staff hired prior to 2022, and raising campus minimum and occasional worker wages
- hiring an associate vice president for wellness who will be responsible for the vision, strategy, execution, and management of Colorado College’s holistic wellness commitment
- developing, sharing, and training the campus on protocols related to on-campus emergencies
- creating a task force on mental health to include students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and outside experts with deep experience in this area
- conducting an external review of our mental health and wellness structures, programs, services, and practices
Over time, the college plans to take the following actions:
- working toward earning a “Healthy Minds” designation from the Colorado Department of Higher Education after a comprehensive review of programs and practices to address mental health across campus
- enhancing free on-campus emergency assistance training, applied suicide intervention skills, and informational meetings regarding grief
- improving and making our communication protocols more transparent, including communicating about our mental health commitment and work and using trigger warnings for sensitive communications
- reviewing wellness resources offered by CC’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
- providing a required online QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) suicide prevention training for faculty and staff
“Because we’re elevating wellness up to the same level as antiracism, we want to mirror the external review process that took place,” says Manya Whitaker, executive vice president and chief of staff. “People sometimes overlook or perhaps never know that antiracism is not just about race. It’s about power structures. When we think about changing the organizational structure around mental health, we’re talking about who has the power, the access, the opportunity to find support for wellness, including physical fitness, sports, Outdoor Ed, counseling, private therapy, going to or finding a church community, and financial wellness.”
Whitaker says the changes the college will make are organizational and structural.
“Our external review will look not just at services, but at people’s lived experiences. It’s hard when you’re in it to assess it. We wanted to be sure the people coming in from the outside had the expertise and the personal cultural experiences to be able to assess what’s going on at Colorado College,” Whitaker says.
Since the issue of mental health is impacting colleges both regionally and nationally, CC representatives at the leadership level will learn from peer institutions. Some will meet with Denison University representatives in Ohio, and others will visit Pikes Peak State College, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, and the University of Denver. Whitaker says joining efforts will increase effectiveness and efficiency.
While the conversation around mental health continues, help is available on campus now. Colorado College’s Wellness Resource Center helps students navigate a range of life challenges that can result in significant stress, mood changes, excessive worry, problems with eating or sleeping, and other symptoms of mental distress. The WRC offers direct support to students, referrals to other campus resources, and workshops and programs to help build coping skills and resiliency. Initiatives provided by the WRC focus on supporting students with mental health challenges, building resilience and coping skills, and educating the campus community about mental health literacy, culture change, and harm prevention.
Workshops and programs are designed for self-care and for supporting others. Students are encouraged to check out the Journaling or Self Care and Resilience Skill Building series. To learn about best practices in trauma-informed care and supporting others with mental health challenges, the WRC offers Mental Health First Aid and the How to Help workshop series. The BADASS Active Bystander Intervention Program also covers how to respond to people in distress and intervene to prevent potentially harmful situations. Print and online resources on managing grief and choosing a therapist are also available.