The Black Survivors Coalition is urging Georgetown University to permanently hire new BIPOC counselors after the university temporarily onboarded new mental health workers in response to student demands.
Georgetown hired 13 new temporary mental health counselors in the spring to offer free counseling services to BIPOC survivors of sexual misconduct after months of protests and activism from BSC last semester. All the new counselors are women of color, and 11 of the 13 are Black, according to BSC members.
The counselors are working through the school’s Counseling and Psychiatric Service to provide free services to enrolled students who are not currently engaged in CAPS counseling work or using outside community providers.
The counselors are focused on serving historically marginalized or underserved communities, particularly women and femmes of color who have experienced sexual misconduct, according to a university spokesperson.
The new counselors are temporary hires and will no longer work for the university after the 2020-2021 academic year, according to CAPS officials. The university has not told BSC leaders if it will commit to permanently hiring more Black clinicians after the school year and a university spokesperson did not provide details to The Hoya about the university’s plans by the deadline for this story.
CAPS notified BSC that it had contracted the 13 new providers in the spring, according to a university spokesperson.
The university’s decision to hire the new healthcare providers came after BSC launched its #GeorgetownDoesntCare campaign in February to demand greater support for BIPOC survivors of sexual misconduct. During the campaign, the group staged sit-ins for a week outside the office of University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95).
The protests and sit-ins, which came after the group submitted a statement listing 10 demands to university officials at the end of January, called on the university to provide more on-campus resources for Black women and nonbinary survivors. As one of the campaign’s demands, the BSC called for easier access to Black clinicians to support Black survivors.
“Until these clinicians have been permanently hired, contract out Black clinicians to be available for sessions for Georgetown students in the interim on a biweekly or monthly basis,” the January statement submitted to the university by BSC reads. “By the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, at least 2 Black clinicians and 2 queer Black clinicians ought to have been hired or be in the hiring process.”
Since the university has yet to permanently appoint two Black clinicians and two Black queer clinicians as requested by BSC, students are not satisfied with the university’s actions, according to BSC organizer Kayla Friedland (SFS ’22).
“This is definitely something that we will not back down on, and it is definitely something that we are going to continue to actively push for. If we cannot get it through administration then we’re willing to take direct action in whatever form that may be,” Friedland said in an interview with The Hoya. “But definitely we want to work with the admin, and if the administration was willing to give it to us then we would love to not have problems and not have to dedicate so many hours of our lives against receiving the bare minimum of resources that we should already have.”
Black women and nonbinary people on campus are also grappling with the resignation of Associate Director for Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Services Jennifer Wiggins in June, according to Friedland.
“Jen Wiggins just also left the university, and she is, or was, CAPS for Black women and nonbinary people on campus. Singlehandedly,” Friedland told The Hoya. “She was CAPS. And I don’t even know if 11 clinicians are ready to support students in the ways that she was able to. Eleven temporary clinicians. And then for them to soon be gone altogether and for there to be no replacement.”
Wiggins’ departure weakened the university support structure for BIPOC survivors, Friedland added.
“Her being gone is another void in the university. It’s almost like even the few pieces that we had given to us by administration are falling away and we’re being left increasingly with nothing to support us. And it’s really frustrating,” Friedland said.
BSC has started sharing feedback surveys for students who have used the new clinicians, and they plan on suggesting the university hire four of the temporary clinicians full time in an upcoming meeting with administrators, according to BSC members.
Although the university has not permanently appointed the clinicians as requested by the BSC, the temporary counselors have been a helpful resource for students, according to BSC member Ace Carlyle Erikson (MSB ’23).
“Overall, we’ve been really happy with what Georgetown has done, giving us this resource and following through with that demand and the need that we presented,” Erikson said in an interview with The Hoya. “But now they have to follow through all the way and fulfill it to its completion, which is what our hope is for the end of this semester.”
This article was updated Nov. 2 to clarify details about the temporary counselors’ contract with the university. Georgetown University announced on July 31 that the contracts had been extended to the end of the 2020-21 academic year.