Muhlenberg’s CARE Team describes itself as “a multi-disciplinary, collaborative effort to identify students who are facing significant personal struggles, in distress, or are identified as students of concern who may benefit from additional support or resources.”
For about a year and a half, this new program has followed through on its mission, assisting 233 students last year and 227 so far this school year, according to Allison Gulati, Vice President of Student Affairs & Dean of Students. CARE Teams similar to the one at Muhlenberg can be found on college campuses across the country, and have grown to cater to a wide variety of student needs. Every member of the team has undergone about 45 hours of additional training on top of their general professional requirements.
“We work with students around all different types of concerns,” says Gulati. “It could be health related, mental health related, it could be related to academic distress, family distress, crises at home that occur, deaths of close family or friends. Financial hardship is a big piece of it or anything else that might be impacting their overall emotional well-being or social experience at the college. Sometimes we get students who are just really lonely or homesick…so it really runs the gamut in terms of support.”
Any student or faculty member can make a report to the team if they are concerned about a student’s well-being. While reports can be made in person or over the phone, Gulati explains that the majority of reports come from the team’s online form.
“Sometimes people will still call to consult with a hypothetical situation to see if it’s one that they should share with us or not,” says Gulati. “That way we can provide them with some advice before they make a decision about how they want to share the information. But if I had to guess, I’m going to say that 75 percent or more of the reports come in from the online form.”
Even though reports can be made anonymously, Gulati explains that it could be beneficial to let a student know that the person reporting them is someone they can trust.
“Usually what we’ll do is reach back out to the reporter to ask them if they’ve told the student that they were referring them, and if not do they want to share that with the student or do they want us to? Do they need to remain anonymous for some reason or not? One of the things we always encourage after [someone] report[s] is that when students are in distress related to their health or mental health, when someone that they trust is the one helping refer them, telling that person really helps,” says Gulati.
In addition to the multitude of health-related resources they provide, the CARE Team also assists students financially.
“It really is on a case by case basis depending upon what the student’s situation might be,” explains Gulati. “We would meet individually with the student to really assess what’s going on. We have access to provide meal swipes if necessary. We could also provide short term funding for, let’s say they need an emergency bus ticket home, or a parent lost a job. Then we do a couple things: we take care of whatever the emergency situation might be, but then Michelle [Paules, Coordinator of Student Support Services] and my office would work with them and meet with them in Financial Aid to figure out what we might need to do to make adjustments related to whatever imminent situation has come up.”
Working alongside the Health Center and the Office of Disability Services, the CARE Team aids students with both urgent and less urgent needs. Just as they can provide emergency care and transportation to students with an immediate condition like an eating disorder, they also help students who may even be struggling with the stress of taking care of another student in distress.
Another significant part of the CARE Team’s work is consulting with students about taking a medical leave of absence, and then focusing on the transition back to campus if they do take a break.
“[What] we have to consult on sometimes is maybe a student is in between whether or not they should take a medical leave, or if they should try and stay. We try and help them put a plan of success together,” says Gulati. “On the flip side, about 30 students a semester take a medical leave and when they’re coming back, that’s really where they want support. So, when they’re coming back, after they’ve been away related to health, mental health or family crisis, they are figuring out ‘what courses should I take now?’ ‘Do I want to move back into the residence halls or would another environment be better for me?’ ‘Do I have new disability accommodations that I didn’t have before?’ ‘What type of course load should I try and do?’ What type of counseling support am I going to need?’”
To help the transition go smoothly, the CARE Team will then schedule a meeting with Tim Silvestri Director of Counseling Services, counseling director, Pamela Moschini, Director, Office of Disability Services, and Bruce Anderson, Dean of Academic Life, to create a “plan of success” for a student that helps to answer the questions Gulati addresses. Students may, but are not required to, involve their parents in this plan.
Because this program is still fairly new to Muhlenberg Gulati and other members of the Care Team are working to let all students know about the assistance they provide. Along with informational programs for faculty members, first year students are told about the CARE Team during orientation and the Foundations of Student Success course. Additionally, all RA’s are trained to help students get involved with the team if necessary.
“[Muhlenberg] has always tried to work together to manage concerns related to students,” says Gulati, “but working in this cohesive way and helping students holistically” has been the result of the new CARE Team’s efforts in ensuring success for all students.