Circle of support: Wayne State and WSU Applebaum have students’ backs

Food insecurity. Housing issues. Depression. Degree completion anxiety. These are the stressors weighing especially heavy on graduate students’ shoulders during the pandemic, according to a National Science Foundation study of more than 4,000 grad students at 11 institutions across the country — the most comprehensive survey of its kind, according to a recent story in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Survey results after the Office of Student Affairs asked students how they were feeling this fall.

A review of the issues shows that they aren’t exclusive to grad students. The key takeaways are:

1. About a quarter of respondents indicated that they’d experienced at least some food insecurity, and the same proportion said they’d struggled with housing insecurity. 

2. More than two-thirds of reported low well-being, while about a third said they’d experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression.

3. One in four said they expected it would take longer to complete their degrees — most said they would need another six months to a year.

WSU Applebaum Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Mary K. Clark says that pharmacy and health sciences students — undergraduate and graduate alike — are accustomed to excelling under pressure. “But this is such an unusual time,” she said. “Students should know that whatever issue they’ve got, we probably have a service available to help.”

Food and housing insecurity

Clark says students often don’t realize how many services Wayne State University offers, regardless of whether they’re on campus or at home. The Warrior Life and Wellness program pulls many of these resources together in one handy online spot. Help is a few clicks away under categories such as Intellectual Wellness, Financial Wellness and Physical Wellness — which is where students can find information about The W Food Pantry. This Dean of Students Office initiative housed on the first floor of the Towers retail space (next to Dunkin’ Donuts) pre-packs food and personal hygiene products for easy pickup from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday by students who have completed a Get Involved form.

In addition to the pantry, “the Office of Student Affairs keeps a list of resources beyond campus,” Clark said, noting that many church and civic groups offer groceries to people struggling to make ends meet. For example, the Detroit Community Fridge in the city’s southwest neighborhood was created by WSU students to provide fresh and frozen food (in addition to pantry items and other supplies) on a take-what-you-need-donate-what-you-can basis.

When living conditions are a concern, Clark notes that the HIGH Program was launched by WSU First Lady Jacqueline Wilson to help students who are homeless or precariously housed.

Students also are encouraged to apply for CARES Act funding for fall semester. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was passed by congress in March to support students facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. The Office of Student Financial Aid continues to award Wayne State’s allotment and the application will remain open until the funding is exhausted.

The university and college also offer emergency grants. Clark says students with questions about how best to proceed can reach out to her or write to WSU Applebaum financial aid at finaideacphs@wayne.edu. “They’re used to working through a lot of unique situations and will typically respond within a day,” Clark said.

Low well-being and depression

Prior to the pandemic, a student could walk into Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to ask for free, confidential help. That support is still available and is now just a call or click away. The group’s state-licensed counselors and interns have undergone training from accredited professional organizations in the ethical and competent delivery of telemental health services, and are providing care from afar using Microsoft Teams.

“Oftentimes, test anxiety is what brings people in, but we discover other issues at play,” said Patricia Dixon, the university counselor who provides dedicated services to WSU Applebaum. To get started, students call CAPS through Teams at 313-577-3398 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday to set up an initial consultation. Dixon says WSU Applebaum students are welcome to call her directly at 313-577-2319.

For quick problem-solving and resource recommendations, the virtual Let’s Talk program allows students to drop in for free, private consultations on Zoom during specified hours.

In addition to one-on-one counseling, CAPS offers weekly group sessions focused on issues such as burnout and anxiety, and virtual workshops on topics such as loneliness and political civility. WSU Applebaum students should watch their inboxes for news of a college-specific workshop coming soon.

“We also have several support groups. For example, the TD-One group is a collaboration with Dean of Students David Strauss that’s been meeting for more than a year to talk about living with type 1 diabetes — but these days we offer an even stronger sense of support since that’s a high-risk category for COVID-19,” Dixon said, adding that those interested in joining are welcome to reach out to her directly.

“One of the most important things students can do is get involved in extracurricular activities and talk with each other outside the virtual classroom,” Dixon said. “Connecting over casual conversation helps you realize that what you’re going through is common — you are not alone.”

She says attending the 17th Annual College Research Day, being held live on Zoom Wednesday, October 14, is an excellent way to mix and mingle with the WSU Applebaum community outside the standard academic setting. “Even though it’s virtual this year, it’s an opportunity to be around other people and enjoy social connections.”

She adds that the Dean of Students Office hosts a range of other activities as well as offering links to more than 400 student organizations, including program-specific groups and those focused on outside interests such as sports, fine arts or social justice.

Beyond formally organized events, Dixon recommends setting up video calls with friends and classmates to chat, play games or simply eat lunch together. But nobody should stay tethered to their laptop all day long. “Go outside, breathe in the fresh air and take a walk,” Dixon said. “It’s important to keep a regular sleep schedule, eat a healthy diet and develop an exercise routine now because our students aren’t going to feel any less stressed after graduation — they’re in high-pressure fields, so practicing self-care now will help them down the road.”

Degree completion anxiety

It’s no secret that clinical rotations have become a much bigger challenge during the pandemic, with various locations not accepting students or reducing their usual numbers. This has led to stress about degree requirements and timing for many WSU Applebaum students.

Junior Radiation Therapy Technology students during their first clinical orientation at Ascension St. John Hospital in Novi this summer. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. “Don’t assume anything based on what you see happening with other students,” Clark warned. “We often have to make adjustments one at a time on a case-by-case basis.”

Clark says a student’s first point of contact about any degree requirement issues should be their professor or the person they work with most in their department, such as a faculty advisor, department chair or program director. But her team is ready to jump in as needed.

“We may not be in the Applebaum building but the Office of Student Affairs is still fully operational,” Clark said. “We’re still answering phones as if we’re sitting in the office, and the Academic Services Officer of the Day is available Monday through Friday at cphsinfo@wayne.edu. Do not hesitate to reach out to us.”

Clark wants students to feel surrounded by a circle of support. “We will turn on a dime as needed to respond to the virus and students' needs — as a college and as a university, we’ve already demonstrated our ability to pivot quickly,” she said. “Now, more than ever, we all need to have grace and patience for each other and for ourselves.”

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