UAF Health and Counseling offers confidentiality

By Julia Taylor

Sun Star Reporter

Everyone reacts differently to being assaulted, whether that assault is sexual in nature or not. Responses also change over time, and it is important to have someone to talk with who has a constant role, according to Tony Rousmaniere, associate director of counseling at the UAF Student Health and Counseling Center.

“A key element of helping survivors of trauma is giving them the maximum possible control over their healing process.  This requires not having ‘dual roles’ within a relationship,” said Rousmaniere.

In a state with a small population, Alaskan students are more vulnerable than most when sharing information with a roommate or tutor, who could become a supervisor or boss at some future time. “Only professional counseling ensures that students have the utmost control and discretion,” Rousmaniere said.

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The Student Health and Counseling Center on campus offers confidentiality. Staff are not required to be mandatory reporters per Title IX. Photo by Zayn Roohi

Professors and staff who listen and reach out to students have the best of intentions, but many survivors end up regretting those initial conversations, especially when they still have to see and talk to them regularly for other reasons Rousmaniere said.

Many survivors move on to a point where they don’t want to keep discussing the trauma, and when there are dual roles, it is harder for a survivor to assert their desire not to talk.

“The student may get concerned about how talking or not talking about their trauma could affect their grades, etc.” Rousmaniere said.

For all of these reasons, Rousmaniere believes that the counselors available through the Health and Counseling Center are the best resource for anyone who is dealing with trauma and loss. He thinks that is especially true for those who are not yet ready to with police or Title IX coordinators, but want to weigh their options and understand what the possible next steps are.

Some are confused about what Center counselors can do for staff members and faculty who want to be able to confidentially talk about gender inequality, sexual harassment, sexually inappropriate touching or discussions. While most services at the Student Health and Counseling Center are not available to staff and faculty (who are not enrolled in classes and paying the Health Center fee) topics that come under the Title IX umbrella are an exception.

Dr. BJ Aldrich, director of the center explained this exception, and how it would work for an employee who wanted confidential help.

“We have set up the Health Center to provide initial confidential counseling for staff and faculty,” he said. “After the initial consultation, the employee would be referred to community and/or EAP (Employee Assistance Program) resources for follow-up counseling if needed.”

Aldrich also emphasized that all practitioners and staff at the Student Health and Counseling Center are able to offer confidentiality, whatever their job description is. She did clarify that not everyone who works on the floor that houses the Center are covered though.

“The disability services office is not a confidential site,” Aldrich said.

Which means that the front desk staff taking calls or making appointments are covered by confidentiality, but a conversation with staff at Disability Services would be subject to the same reporting requirements, and might not be confidential.

The changes in Title IX and its implementation originated at the federal level with new directions for all universities in early 2014. At UAF there is additional stress, as the program requirements and process are updated in the midst of a review by the Office of Civil Rights.

The University was notified of the review in May, and new programs and training for staff and faculty started in June.

Mae Marsh, Title IX co-coordinator for UAF, has repeatedly said the expectations under Title IX have not changed, just the awareness of the expectations as Title IX training for all employees was emphasized over the summer. She encourages all staff and students who work for the university to remember these are federal guidelines, aimed at making sure student safety and gender equality are available to every UAF student.

Michael O’Brien, attorney for the UA system, says the federal rules are in direct response to not having reporting required. The reality, O’Brien says, is research shows people don’t report assaults and harassment if it isn’t a requirement.

Marsh believes that extending the requirement to report, to every employee of the university who is not specifically exempted, will guide students who are hurt and need help to heal find it. UAF Campus Police Chief Keith Mallard reminds students that creating a safe campus happens if everyone is part of the solution. He agrees with Marsh that designating every employee as a “responsible employee,” using the current federal Title IX definition, UAF can create a web of people who make sure others aren’t abused.

For Rousmaniere, the changes to Title IX don’t change what his advice to students, staff and faculty would be. His worries about dual roles between students and staff, as well as students and other students, are not new. He said the advice he is giving now hasn’t changed with the new Title IX initiatives. Rousmaniere said, “Although we always want to listen when people want to talk about their pain, sometimes the best way to help is instead to refer students to professional counseling, where they can get the best possible care while retaining the highest level of control.  This was true before the recent Title IX mandates, and continues to be true now.”

There are still barriers from the lack of accessibility on nights and weekends, and questions about how some student groups will be impacted as the Title IX implementation continues. But Rousmaniere encourages students to contact him or Stacey Schmitt directly if they have ideas, concerns, or want to meet someplace besides the Health and Counseling Center.

He says the most important thing for students, staff or faculty who are struggling with assault, harassment or gender inequality is to get professional help. Below are numbers to call Rousmaniere or Schmitt directly (leave a message and they will call back), make an appointment, or simply walk in the door. Anytime someone in any kind of crisis comes to the clinic, the counseling team will make time to see them.

Email Tony Rousmaniere at tgrousmaniere@alaska.edu, for information about expanded services, group counseling sessions, or suggestions for programs you would like to see at UAF.

 

 

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