The Counseling Center and Disability Services (CCDS) has been the subject of recent scrutiny and debate among the Meredith community. Upon investigation, The Herald found that there have been several different experiences with CCDS across the student and alumnae population, many of whom felt supported by staff to varying degrees during their time at Meredith.
The Director of the Counseling Center and Disability Services, Beth Meier, asserted that the primary purpose of the CC is to “[provide] quality, evidence-based mental health services and resources to students.” The Counseling Center holds a Crisis Hour at 1 p.m. every weekday during which students can come to the Counseling Center and seek help or support outside of a regularly scheduled appointment.
This is in addition to the on-call counselor offered 24/7 during the academic year. Meier said, “The purpose of all of our crisis services is to assess and mitigate risk, support and offer distress tolerance and emotion regulation strategies and potentially set a student up for additional counseling and mental health services on or off campus.”
The Counseling Center also offers a 10 a.m. Problem-Solving Hour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as another resource for students to receive support outside of appointments. Data from the 2021–2022 academic year showed that 62 appointments were made during the Crisis Hour and 40 appointments outside of that hour, or roughly three appointments per week. Meier says that the CC hopes to incorporate more group therapy sessions, which would allow the CC to reach out to many students at once.
Several alumnae from the Class of 2019 reached out to The Herald to share their experiences with CCDS. Cassie Faircloth said CCDS was “extremely helpful” and “provided [her] with a warm and empathetic environment.” Sofia Benbahmed, ‘19, had heard that students were criticizing CCDS and said, “Whatever is happening, I hope it gets resolved.” Benbahmed also added that she believes that the workers in CCDS at Meredith “care about and are invested in students.”
However, current students have shared troubling stories relating to CCDS. In January of 2023, an anonymous Instagram account @inaccessibilityatmeredith started posting stories of student experiences with ableism and inaccessibility at Meredith, including with CCDS.
One student detailed their issues with how Disability Services has handled their accommodations. They explained that there were times when their class recording accommodation was not honored by professors, and Disability Services did not “fulfill the legal obligations” they had to uphold them.
After trying to get a notetaker in six different classes, the student ultimately stopped trying to advocate for themself. “Your hands aren't tied, they are unbound and regularly destructive,” the student said. “I have heard them say that students have all of this power, but they act like so many decisions within their control are out of their hands and are actually the student's fault. It feels like they are pretending to empower students with disabilities and gaslighting them into thinking systemic oppression is the personal responsibility of disabled students to fix.”
Though the student doesn’t believe the office intends to harm students with disabilities, they believe that their actions still do. “They are aware of these issues because I have brought these and others to their attention, and I continue to see evidence from other students that they continue to engage in behaviors that invalidate and harm students on the basis of their disabilities,” they explained.
The student has heard multiple times that CCDS is “underfunded and understaffed” but believes that “many of their poor decisions were made for free at [students’] expense.” However, Meier and Carolyn Koning, Assistant Director for Disability Services, told The Herald that “all the positions in the Counseling Center and Disability Services are currently filled.”
Several members of the student body have expressed their dissatisfaction with the Disability Training provided by CCDS at the annual Officer Training hosted by the Student Leadership and Service office during the fall of 2022. One attendee found the 45-minute presentation “unhelpful.” The student said that the disability training provided “felt unorganized and superficial” and that “one of the presenters spent 2-3 minutes apologizing for her generation's struggle with using people's preferred pronouns.”
Karen Coffey Hager, Disability Counselor, responded to student concerns about the training. “If a student reported these feelings to us, we would certainly review the session provided and try to change aspects that were offensive,” she explained. “We welcome constructive criticism. We can only change an error if we are aware of the error.”
Koning was “not aware” of the issues students had with the training and that she would want to know if she contributed to “make corrections to [her] word choice and information during future presentations.” Meier also said that she “wish[es] there was a way to better foster direct communication so issues can be addressed and resolved.” She hopes that students will continue to reach out with feedback, especially through events like the recent Student Life Forum.
However, some students expressed that they were not always comfortable speaking up about these issues. Some students shared that they “generally feel limited by Disability Services staff” and at times that the support they received felt “temporary and unsubstantial.”
Those interested in learning more about students’ experiences with ableism and inaccessibility at Meredith can visit @inaccessibilityatmeredith on Instagram.
By Evelyn Summers, Senior Copy Editor and Cady Stanley Arts & Entertainment Editor