New counseling fee yields student, faculty reactions

Helen Lee, For the Review

Linfield College’s new $15 a month fee for campus counseling services has stirred resentment among members of the student body and faculty.
The fee was instituted at the beginning of fall semester, but was not announced to the Linfield community.

In fact, the health center web page was just updated this week to reflect the change in policy.

In previous years, the health center charged students for medical treatment, but not counseling.

This year, it joins a tiny minority of college counseling centers around the country, fewer than 8 percent, in charging for counseling services, according to Psychology Professor Tania Tompkins, who has emerged as one of the fee’s leading critics.

“At a time when we continue to see more students entering college with a pre-existing mental health diagnosis — and more developing significant problems with depression, anxiety and eating disorder behavior in the transition to college — it seems we should be thinking about ways to expand services, not providing additional barriers to seeking care.”

Tompkins is also upset about the lack of transparency, citing the college’s failure to inform students and faculty in advance. “No one knew — not students, not faculty advisors, not resident advisors or peer advisors,” she complained.

“I often encourage students to seek out formal support from the counseling center by reminding them that they are already paying for it as a way to normalize help-seeking,” she said.

“Given faculty’s charge to care about and educate the ‘whole student’ I feel I should have been informed it is no longer a free service.”

Other faculty members have also taken issue with the fee, including English and Diversity Professor Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt.

“The new fee causes a burden on the students both financially and psychologically,” Dutt-Ballerstadt said. “Not everyone is comfortable seeking out a counselor for their emotional needs since issues of mental health still carries a significant stigma in our society.”

“I also worry that such a fee may also disproportionately affect our male students, since men in general are less inclined to seek counseling. With an added fee some of them (who would have otherwise sought occasional counseling) may avoid it altogether,” Dutt-Ballerstadt said.

Linfield psychology major Emily Culley joined the chorus of critics, saying, “Students need free counseling, especially with the anniversary of the death of Parker Moore coming up.”

Clinic Coordinator Patricia Haddeland defended the fee in an interview with the campus newspaper, saying it’s designed to help the center accommodate an influx of students needing counseling services. “Every year,” she said, “We’ve had to increase the staff to meet the demands of the students.”

Tompkins said that while she understands the center’s need to expand its staff, “There are a range of other alternatives that could be explored which have the opportunity to expand services in a sustainable manner that could engage the Linfield community in a campus conversation about mental health.”

Besides accessibility problems for students who may not be able to afford this extra cost, Tompkins said privacy is another concern because the fee can be billed to a student’s insurance.

“I worry about confidentiality if parents are seeing the bill and wondering why their son/daughter is going to the health center so frequently.”

“I hate to think that some may not get the help they need because they can’t pay and/or don’t want to ask for financial help,” Tompkins said.

One student created a campus-wide petition to re-evaluate the fee. It calls for the administration to consider the decision with input from students and faculty.

Junior and president of the psychology club Hailey Roberts made and has been distributing the petition to the Linfield community.

Roberts addressed the reasoning behind the petition, writing “We feel that this decision was made in haste, without the proper input of the community, and in direct conflict with the interests of the students.”

“As national awareness for the vital importance of mental health resources has skyrocketed, we feel that this decision brings Linfield a step into the past rather than progressing with the rest of the nation,” Roberts wrote.

The petition has more than 200 signatures so far, and is raising awareness on campus about this issue.

Roberts also created a survey about the fee, which she said more than 250 people have taken, including faculty and alumni.

Some students have taken to social media to voice their concerns, such as one freshman who asked to remain anonymous.

“The counseling center has earned itself an impressively tall pedestal in the pantheon of Hell by monetizing a service that students certainly need but are unlikely to be able to afford,” he said.

As the Linfield community addresses this issue, Tompkins urges the administration to include students’ input and for them to “not lose sight of why we are all here: To educate and provide opportunities for growth for our students.”

“Inviting students to the conversation and listening to what they have to say not only pays respect to that mission but also allows us to come together as a community to think about a range solutions that might best meet their needs.”

Roberts and the rest of the psychology club met with Haddeland and the other major administrators involved in the decision on October 22.

“Gains were made,” Roberts said, and there will be a full panel discussion about the fee next month in Ice Auditorium that will be open to all students.