Leaders at the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS); Support, Healing, Activism and Prevention Education (SHAPE) office; and WesWell will be vacating their positions this semester.
CAPS Mental Health Education & Prevention Coordinator Angie Makomenaw will be stepping down and moving on to a different institution on Friday, Feb. 26. SHAPE Director Johanna DeBari is scheduled to begin maternity leave on Tuesday, March 16. WesWell Director Seirra Fowler also left her position at the University on Jan. 29.
Although Makomenaw is excited to move on to her new role, she is also committed to making the transition as smooth as possible for the CAPS office and for future staff members who will fill her position.
“We’re trying to work to see how I can help out still so that there’s not a gap, because I don’t want there to be a gap,” Makomenaw said. “Also, since I’m familiar with a lot of the technology, I don’t want [the tech responsibility] to be placed on someone else who has to relearn.”
Unlike CAPS, which is composed of a number of staffers, the SHAPE office will only be staffed by Student Intern Asiyah Herrero ’22 after DeBari’s maternity leave. However, DeBari emphasized that the community of care provided by various offices and services at the University and in the Middletown area will step up to meet student needs regarding intimate violence support and prevention.
“It’s some folks from CAPS, some folks from the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, some other folks from the Women and Families center in Middletown, as well as resources through New Horizons, which is another off-campus resource,” DeBari said. “So it really is a collective community of care to ensure that people have multiple options. And then also, [Assistant Vice President for Equity and Inclusion] Debbie Colucci will be a resource for people who want to get the lay of the land for both connecting to confidential resources as well as understanding rights and resources under Title IX in particular. That’s kind of the bulk of the supportive resources and how that part of my role will be filled.”
WesWell is also experiencing a difficult transition with the departure of Fowler, but newly-hired Alcohol and Other Drug Specialist September Johnson is helping with directorial responsibilities until the office hires someone new into the role. Like DeBari, Johnson emphasized the role of the University’s community of care in terms of providing health and wellness services to students.
“While we may be going through many changes at this moment, our offices are committed to continuing this community of care to help students thrive at Wesleyan,” Johnson said. “Helping the student body will continue to be our top priority, even through the changes we are experiencing.”
Johnson specifically takes a holistic approach to students’ relationship to substances, in addition to helping students more generally.
“The health and wellness world is filled with lots of great information that can help students lead healthy and happy lives,” Johnson wrote in an email to the Argus. “However, there is also a lot of misleading, incorrect, and ill-informed [information] mixed in as well, especially when it comes to alcohol and other drug use. I was drawn to this position as it gives me the unique position to help students navigate this information, while also holding space for hard, yet caring, conversations to help students.”
In Makomenaw’s absence, CAPS plans to continue with community mental health initiatives, including creating a CAPS student advisory committee, providing multimedia mental health resources, and offering student-centered workshops and webinars. The CAPS office aims to make these programs accessible to students, both on- and off-campus.
“We will be having three webinars done by our externs, they’re working on it right now,” Makomenaw said. “They’re still debating on the topics, because it’s really dependent on students and what is most needed. All of those webinars, of course, will be recorded, and we’ll put them up on our YouTube page.”
While DeBari is on maternity leave, anyone who sends her an email will receive an automated response outlining available resources for addressing interpersonal violence and mental health crises. This information is also available on the SHAPE website.
DeBari also mentioned that the SHAPE office is in the process of hiring another student intern to build programming for Survivor Solidarity Month, which will take place in April.
Debari said she hopes that her new colleagues in CAPS and WesWell will continue to prioritize anti-racism and intersectionality in their work, as well as to embrace teamwork.
“I hope that the folks who step into those positions have the same collaborative energy and willingness to be part of a team, and connect in that way,” DeBari said. “Although I will deeply miss my colleagues who are also my friends, I’m excited to welcome whoever steps into that position and continue the work.”
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