Rider counseling takes a new approach to wellness

By Kaitlyn McCormick

EXACERBATED by the pandemic and pressing global issues, conversations surrounding student mental health and avenues for wellness have been pushed to the forefront of campus discussions; now, Rider is expanding its scope and continuing to employ a holistic approach to see students flourish, utilizing creative methods to redefine therapeutic intervention. 

Faculty and staff gathered via Zoom on Feb. 3 for back-to-back presentations on student mental wellbeing, with a special interest in diversity. Anissa Moody, interim director of the counseling center and staff psychologist, discussed along with other counseling center members the resources available at the university to a digital audience of faculty and staff. 

One main takeaway: Rider’s move away from a traditional “closed door” model of treatment for servicing students, which Moody explained has often led to the stigma that surrounds mental health. 

Instead, outreach has become a main focus of the counseling center. 

“We placed ourselves in circumstances and situations through our partnerships and collaborative relationships, where people can now come and talk with us and we go to them,” Moody said in an interview after the presentation. 

“When you have a prevention plan that allows for outreach across the campus, you have more access and also you’re educating more of the student body,” Moody said. 

The center has an embedded counselor placed in the athletics department, and is working toward establishing stronger connections with the Student Accessibility and Support Services (SASS) office. 

Staff psychologist Jill Siletski elaborated, saying, “I’m proud to announce that we have a workshop in collaboration [with SASS], specifically for neurodiverse, learning-diverse and honestly any other SASS student that struggles with interpersonal skills and expressing themselves.”

Moody’s presentation followed a workshop presented by guest speaker Dr. Desiree Byrd, an associate professor of psychology at the City University of New York, Queens College and neurologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. 

This workshop, entitled “Brief Interactions, Big Impact: Being responsive to student mental health and identity diversity Part 2,” was made possible due to a 2-year, $500,000 grant administered by the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and the United States Department of Education.

Vice President for Student Affairs Leanna Fenneberg explained that this grant has a specific focus on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on underrepresented and marginalized students, and a part of that focus has been dedicated to supporting student mental health. 

Though requested, presence by The Rider News at Byrd’s workshop was not permitted due to the sensitive nature of discussion, ultimately at the discretion of Byrd and those involved in planning the event. Byrd was unable to speak separately with The Rider News due to scheduling conflicts.

Fenneberg responded to the request via email, writing in part, “We believe the knowledge of student and media presence in the discussion will potentially negatively influence active participation in conversation by attendees as the presenter seeks vulnerability in the space,” though she expressed the group’s excitement toward The Rider News’ wish to address “critical issues of mental health” and agreed to an interview. 

“Our collective traditional perspective around mental health is individual therapy, and that is very important for some people, but it’s not the only way to help support mental wellbeing,” Fenneberg explained. “With [Byrd’s] workshop, we really wanted to surface the intersections of social identity with mental health.” 

Moody’s presentation also focused heavily on the sense of self-awareness that this generation of students seems to have in terms of their mental health. 

“A lot of students present and are quite aware of the impact of accessibility and social justice in terms of how it impacts their mental health and how they participate on college campus and seek us out for support for all of those issues,” Moody said.

The counseling center is promoting demographic-specific groups and workshops, for example for LGBTQ+, minority, or male-identifying students, as well as promoting other methods to wellness like meditation and yoga. 

“We’re holistic and we believe in wellness,” Moody said. “People don’t necessarily thrive and flourish when we focus on their deficit. It’s when you focus on the whole person and when you connect. …Emotional support is for everyone.” 

Rider’s counseling center is located in Zoerner House and can be reached via phone at 609-896-5157 or email at counseling@rider.edu 

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