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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

College directs new $4.9 million gift to mental health services

Middlebury College will allocate $4.9 million in additional funding towards mental health services for students, thanks to an unrestricted gift from a member of the class of 1959.

The college plans to use the money to increase the number of licensed counselor positions, as well as stipend-supported graduate internship opportunities, in an effort to increase the diversity of perspectives in mental health services. It will also include guest and visiting counselors to facilitate workshops including identity-based work and outdoor programming. 

“In recent years, higher education has experienced an acute need for increased support and diversified approaches for mental health, and it continues to be one of the highest priorities for Middlebury,” the college wrote in an email to the community on Dec. 5. 

An unrestricted gift allows the college to meet its own priorities, not those specific to a donor. Senior Leadership Group approached Barbara McCall, associate vice president for student health and well-being with the potential to direct the gift toward student mental health, according to McCall. She crafted a list of the four priorities, based on needs expressed by students, staff and community members, McCall wrote in an email to The Campus. 

These implementations come at a time in which colleges and universities are reckoning with how to deal with mental health. The funding also follows the deaths of Evelyn Mae Sorensen ’25 and Ivan Valerio ’26 on campus this fall, and subsequent calls for the college to allocate more resources to mental health services

“Almost every college and university presidents’ meeting I have had in the past years features mental health challenges as a major part of the national higher education landscape,” President Laurie Patton wrote in an email to The Campus. “The pandemic and post-pandemic worlds have put these issues into even higher relief.”

The addition of a new licensed counselor will contribute to existing one-on-one counseling services, groups and community programming, according to McCall. 

“We know that this is important to students and made changes to our model in the past to ensure that students’ first encounters with Counseling were with licensed counselors,” McCall wrote. 

Funding for identity-based mental health and wellness programs and retreats will respond to student interest in more opportunities to build relationships with peers and mental health clinicians outside of traditional clinical services, according to McCall. The college has hosted BIPOC Mental Health and Well-being retreats in fall 2023, spring 2022, and fall 2021, which McCall called a great success. Health services has continued to collaborate with identity-based student organizations to design programming for LGBTQ students and other identities. 

“We hope to create a retreat schedule that we can facilitate each semester so that they become part of the fabric of our campus community and that these longer-format experiences are available to as many students as possible,” McCall wrote.

The college will also add to its existing two graduate student training programs, though the current lack of compensation for such positions has limited the pool, she stated. 

“Adding stipends is an important step toward equity and will allow us to maintain accessibility to our high-quality training programs,” McCall wrote.

Ultimately, McCall wrote, the goal is for some interns to stay in Vermont long-term.

Prevention efforts will add to existing programming like “Body Acceptance Week” and “Stressbusters,” which aim to share coping strategies, self-advocacy skills, build belongingness and provide mental health training for students, staff and faculty, McCall wrote.  

Outdoor programming will include Forest and Nature Therapy guided walks, retreat spaces at Bread Loaf and partnerships with student organizations and staff in Outdoor programs.

The college will continue to consult with these groups in further developments. McCall encouraged students to reach out to the Center for Health and Wellness if they have input as to how resources should be allocated.

“We know that taking care of community mental health isn’t something that only happens behind the doors of a counselor’s office and we are looking forward to this funding supporting more ways that counselors, integrated care specialists, health educators and other staff can partner with students on programming to meet their needs,” McCall wrote. 

In the past few years, the college has had regular meetings on mental health, and invested in making sure students have access to care around the clock, increased staffing, improved systems of care and launched programs in preventative mental health care and peer education, according to Patton. 

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“While all of these are vibrant programs, we know that challenges remain and we can do even more,” Patton wrote. “Most importantly, I believe Middlebury can think about these issues creatively.” 

McCall attributed the spotlight on young adult mental health to a decrease in stigma, advances in telehealth, increases in the number of students who are coming to college with experience with mental health services and increases in the number of students who are coming to college with existing diagnoses. 

“Institutions of higher education have needed to shift their service models for a long time and the last five or so years have pushed innovation to move at a faster pace,” McCall wrote. 

The college will share further details on plans to enhance mental health services through procuring future gifts, stating in the Dec. 5 email that the student experience is the third pillar of its “For Every Future” fundraising campaign.

Prior to this announcement, the college had not explicitly stated that any funds from this campaign under the banner of “experience” or elsewhere would be directed towards mental health services. 

“As we reach the end of a painful and challenging semester, we want to say how much we appreciate input from and engagement with students and other members of our community,” the email to the Middlebury community read. 

Katie Futterman

Katie Futterman '24 (she/her) is a Managing Editor.

Katie previously served as a News Editor and Staff Writer. This past summer, she was a news intern at Seven Days, and she held the same position at the Addison Independent the prior summer. In her free time, she loves to read, write, and bask in the sun.