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Deans Offer Help, Support Services

By Naveen Sunkavally

MIT’s Office of Counseling and Support Services in Room 5-104 is one source students can turn to in times of distress.

Staffed by four counseling deans, the office performs a wide variety of tasks, including short-term and long-term counseling, student advocacy on the Committee on Academic Performance, and arranging and processing leaves of absences and withdrawals.

Many students take advantage of counseling services

“The office sees students for a range of things,” said Arnold R. Henderson, Associate Dean and Head of the Office of Counseling and Support Services. These reasons include “academic performance, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, and severe depression as well,” Henderson said.

In the 1997-1998 school year, 1400 members of the MIT community went to counseling deans for four or fewer meetings. Of these, 850 were seen for more intense psychotherapy sessions, and 450 were seen as walk-ins, Henderson said.

In those cases which the deans feel that they can not offer students the proper counseling, the deans will refer them to the Medical Center, which will offer further counseling and may prescribe medication. Counseling Dean Ayida Mthembu provided a rough estimate that four to five students are referred to the Med Center each week. Counseling deans also hold staff meetings each week to discuss individual cases.

“We are bound by the same confidentiality constraints as the Med Center,” Henderson said. Unless a student’s case constitutes an emergency, parents are not notified under any circumstances.

Deans offer range of specialties

The four counseling deans work from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day. Appointments with the first available dean are usually given within a week, but a longer wait may be required to see a specific dean. However, in cases of emergency, counseling deans will make time for students, Henderson said. The office has a particularly large case load during finals and midterms.

As head counseling dean, Henderson coordinates the activities of the office, provides counseling services, and keeps in contact with the Medical Center, Student Financial Services, Campus Police, and other campus organizations.

Dean Jacqueline A. Simonis counsels students on personal issues such as eating disorders, sexual assault, and relationships. Dean Mthembu works to help students with academic issues to develop time-management skills and good study skills, and she coordinates with the Committee on Academic Performance.

Dean Kim McGlothin counsels students with anxiety problems or academic concerns and serves as an advisor to Nightline. In addition, the office also has a learning disabilities specialist and a coordinator of women support services.

Word of mouth brings students

People usually come to the counseling office after hearing about it from one of their friends, Henderson said.

“Word of mouth is a big one,” Mthembu said. “I think I came to my realization [about the effectiveness of word-of-mouth] when I went to a memorial service for a student and realized every student who knew her knew me.”

“I have no idea how students come here, but I look up, and there they are,” Mthembu said.

Counseling deans also tell students about their services during Orientation week and visits to living groups.