SUBMISSION: When does CAPS do more harm than good?

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By Grace Shefcik, current UCSC senior and this year’s Vice President of Internal Affairs of the SUA. She began working with CAPS over the summer in hopes to share concerns about their programs and services, specifically as they relate to cultural competency. To learn more or get involved, please email suavpi@ucsc.edu.

When we think of issues with our campus’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), we consider impaction. It takes about two weeks to get an appointment with CAPS. But what happens after? Most students don’t know that UCSC has the highest suicidal ideation rate of all the UCs. Additionally, in 2012, our psychologist to student ratio was 1-to-1570. This sets students up with a system that fails. I volunteered with CAPS on its Peer Education Program (PEP) and experienced many issues, such as staff not being gender inclusive or respondent to criticism. During my second year on PEP, I experienced challenges as I began to come out as queer. This negatively impacted me greatly, and while the leader of PEP, Emilie Cate, was supportive, she ultimately excused me from the program because of “my energy and mood.” I felt discriminated against by a psychologist because of my own mental health challenges. A different psychologist at CAPS confirmed I was living in trauma because of CAPS, which I am still struggling with daily. There was little effort made to resolve my grievance; I received an apology from the directors of CAPS and the Health Center only after involving [Campus] Conflict Resolution Services. University of California Student Association (UCSA) recently gave our CAPS a “C” letter grade for its poor accessibility, diversity and outreach efforts. I felt compelled to find testimony that would show this.

In 2016, I solicited feedback from students regarding CAPS’ cultural competency. I received 14 pages of narratives from students who had psychological damage imparted on them by CAPS staff. Folks reported being misgendered, being told their self-harm scars “weren’t that bad,” feeling invalidated and even considering self-harm to receive services sooner. Resident assistants shared they feel guilty when referring students to CAPS because they don’t trust them, and one student shared they were told their father’s abuse was due to his Asian heritage because that’s how immigrants “are.” I gave these testimonies to CAPS director Gary Dunn, who largely dismissed them and did not promise action. I spoke with staff members about using correct pronouns, which many student testimonies said CAPS failed to do. They said gender neutral pronouns are “new” and take time to get used to. At what point is this inexcusable? When do we stop allowing ignorance and self-proclaimed “growing pains” as reasoning for CAPS’ failure to provide adequate care?

CAPS is a vital service on our campus. However, we can not ignore the incidents where CAPS fails students. Last weekend, I hosted a mental health fair on campus and students shared comments related to cultural competency in mental health. Many expressed a desire for more intersectional and diverse psychologists at CAPS. CAPS is not diverse nor culturally competent enough to reflect or meet the needs of our student body. It is time to expose and address these issues and no longer sweep their ignorance and harm under the rug.