Newly elected University of Iowa Student Government (UISG) President Rachel Zuckerman had a longstanding commitment to mental health issues. As a resident assistant and as a member of Active Minds, she was well educated about the prevalence of mental health stigmatization and realized the need for more mental health support for students, especially during the first year. As UISG President, she translated her commitment and knowledge into support for more accessible mental health services.
"There has been an amazing shift in campus culture and support for people living with mental illness." —Rachel Zuckermann
"Often, residents turn first to their RAs, which is fantastic because we are here to help, but there are limits to our abilities to provide the full support residents need," says Zuckerman. "With this in mind, I went to Residence Education administrators to discuss how we could provide more support to our residents, and we arrived at this embedded model with guidance from University Counseling Service (UCS) professionals."
While many universities around the country are starting to adopt an "embedded counselor" model, very few universities have made the move to place a counselor directly into residence halls.
"This is so important because we need to teach incoming students that the University of Iowa values mental health," Zuckermann says. "Putting a counselor in the residence halls is an exciting value-statement for our university."
The counselor, now on staff, is located in Stanley Hall, bringing mental health services to the east side of campus. Zuckerman hopes to continue working on mental health initiatives during her term as UISG president and believes that the embedded counselor will normalize help-seeking behavior among the student body.
"Just like we have a dining hall where you can eat and a workout facility where you can exercise, we will now have a counselor where you can care for your mental health," she said. "We want students to feel comfortable setting up an appointment with a counselor so they can get the support they need."
Zuckermann hopes to see students become first responders in mental health crises and would like to see some sort of peer mentoring program become available to teach students how to effectively respond to mental health concerns from peers. For now, an embedded counselor in the halls is a step in the right direction.
"This was an initiative brought forth by students, for students. It has been so great to have university administration be receptive to the mental health needs of our students and find a way to make this position possible," she said. "I look forward to seeing how this new counselor serves UI residents, resident assistants, and the professional staff in Residence Education."
As of this issue's publication, the University of Iowa has hired the residence hall embedded counselor, Patrick Galligan, who is now seeing students in his Stanley Hall office.