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Students describe lack of cultural sensitivity, accessibility at CAPS town hall

General representative 1 Lalo Velazquez’s office and members of the Student Wellness Commission hosted a town hall Thursday so students could discuss issues they have had with Counseling and Psychological Services. (Tess Horowitz/Daily Bruin)

By Chris Rybus and Irene Zhou

Nov. 22, 2019 7:44 p.m.

Students and representatives from several student government bodies requested that UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services implement cultural sensitivity trainings at a town hall Thursday.

The town hall was hosted by the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s general representative 1 and Student Wellness Commission offices. The event provided students in marginalized communities, such as students of color or LGBTQ students, the opportunity to voice their concerns with CAPS representatives and their desires to improve the CAPS experience.

CAPS is the primary mental health resource on campus for students. It provides counseling sessions, group therapy options and other services.

Roughly 15 students attended the town hall. Several shared experiences of CAPS counselors lacking cultural awareness and failing to address the different cultural issues for each of these communities.

Student attendees also filled out feedback forms to provide quantitative data in addition to student testimonies. The data will be presented to CAPS to justify any changes by the UCLA administration in the future.

CAPS has made efforts to address the concerns of different underrepresented communities on campus in the past, but there has not been a movement to accommodate marginalized communities on a bigger scale, said Lalo Velazquez, USAC general representative 1.

CAPS invited student representatives from the Muslim Student Association to attend their next staff meeting at which they can discuss how CAPS can address cultural barriers, said Gabriel Loredo, community relations and outreach coordinator for CAPS.

“In the future, CAPS plans to invite members of different student groups to staff meetings to share their experiences,” Loredo said.

Bett Truong, a fourth-year psychobiology student, said she came to the town hall meeting to better understand how to be a more supportive peer for students with mental health issues.

“This is an opportunity for me to learn more about what CAPS is doing,” Truong said. “My experience with CAPS was not specific enough to my cultural experiences and I wish there had been more of a focus on my cultural identity, but they are supportive and they are doing what they can.”

Students also raised concerns about the accessibility of CAPS sessions. Students without the University of California Student Health Insurance Plan are only able to receive three sessions per academic year. Students with UC SHIP are only able to receive six sessions per academic year.

One student said some international students do not have UC SHIP and may struggle to find adequate counseling or mental health services.

CAPS sessions need to be saved for UC SHIP students because that is the only insurance those students have, said Saeromi Kim, CAPS assistant clinical coordinator director.

“There is a debate of whether CAPS should offer more sessions for each student,” Loredo said. “If each student has more sessions, that means CAPS would be seeing less students.”

For students unable to attend CAPS sessions because of their insurance or other conflicts, other campus resources such as Therapy Assistance Online provide support to students at any hour, Loredo said.

Students brought up The Beautiful Mind Project, an initiative providing mental health resources and support for the Muslim community at UCLA. However, some students said they also faced long waitlists and some were ineligible to receive services, as the organization is focused on severe issues and does not adequately provide support to all students.

Students also raised concerns about long waiting periods for CAPS appointments, with some unable to meet with a counselor until months after their initial request.

One student said he hoped for more support from a large institution like UCLA as a first-generation student. He said he has been to CAPS for three sessions and has had his appointments pushed six to eight weeks each time.

Another student said many of her friends seeking mental health services would like immediate help, but are unable to schedule CAPS sessions for weeks.

CAPS has tried to address this issue by having weekly drop-in sessions in campus locations such as the LGBTQ, Veterans, and Engineering centers. These sessions allow students to have a brief screening and conversation instead of making CAPS appointments, Loredo said.

“This is a need that has to be addressed,” Kim said. “CAPS tries to prioritize higher-risk students right away, which may be why other students are not able to immediately receive an appointment.”

Some other resources CAPS offers for lower-risk students include Coping Through the Quarter and Wellness Skills Groups, groups that provide support for students struggling with academic procrastination and other concerns.

CAPS could benefit from more staff and resources, Kim said. With more staff, more students could use the services and clinicians would not feel overworked.

Loredo added that the mental health resources on campus are often disjointed. CAPS is currently working with the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative at UCLA to create an app or website to bring together these different resources for students.

In the future, Velazquez said, said he plans to continue working with CAPS and other student advocacy entities to address these issues and encourage student engagement.

“CAPS has limitations, so it was interesting to have this opportunity to speak with them,” Truong said. “After coming, I want to figure out how I can collaborate with other students to improve mental health on campus.”

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