After 17 years working at Knox and serving as the Director of Counseling Services, the college announced on March 16 that Dan Larson has left to pursue a private practice. In his place, Janell McGruder has stepped into the position of Interim Director for Spring Term as the college searches for a new director for Fall Term.
To accommodate for the loss of a counselor, the Counseling Services staff increased their clinical hours. Megan Downs moved from a part-time counselor to full-time and Kaleena Williams remains part-time but has increased her hours.
In regard to concerns on how students will be affected by these changes, McGruder believes the transition will be a smooth one. “Clinically, we are at the same level that we were when Dan was here. When it comes to actual clinical hours, there haven’t been any changes involved.”
Vice President of Student Development Anne Ehrlich, who will help lead the search team for a new counselor, agreed that students wouldn’t see much change in services this spring. She added that if problems do arise, the college can reach out to other counselors in the Galesburg area to assist.
The center has additionally instituted intake sessions for students who would be required to wait more than two weeks for an appointment or feel they need to have an urgent, but not emergency, session. Divided into 30-minute slots, these times would allow a counselor to assess the immediate needs of the student before they are free to book a full session.
The search for a new director is in a nascent stage at this point, but Ehrlich affirmed that a new director will be found by Fall Term, and that the makeup of the new staff will include three full-time counselors.
Ehrlich emphasized the importance of student involvement in the selection of a new director, even though much of the search will be conducted during summer break.
“It’s very important to me that students be involved in that process,” Ehrlich said. “I’m going to be reaching out to find students who are available either in town, or even to participate on Skype, so students have a voice in who the next counseling director is.”
Student Senate Health and Wellness Chair and Senior Alec Freytag emphasized student inclusion in the process as well.
“I think people want the process to be open,” he said. “I think you can say that about pretty much anything that has been going on on campus. I really think people just want students to be involved and not just be told ‘Oh, by the way, here’s the person we picked.’”
Ehrlich set some parameters for the director position, stating that she’ll be looking for a counselor who has served in directorial or other leadership roles on another college campus.
“I don’t want someone who this is their first time ever working on a college campus before,” Ehrlich said. Experience counseling students of color, first generation students and LGBT students will also be sought in the candidate. She encourages students to reach out to her about what they are looking for as well.
Weighing in on the subject, McGruder said, “I believe students look for someone who is relatable, who is aware of their needs and what they’re going through É Of course individuals want a confidential space, and that’s what we are.”
McGruder emphasized that even in situations where confidentiality might need to be broken, such as risk of self-harm, the counseling staff will be open with students if they take actions to alert someone.
Along with the changes in staffing this year, the creation and growth of group therapy on campus has been pushed by the Counseling Center over the last few years.
This term, four groups are being facilitated: a Survivors of Sexual Assault group, Mind and Body Wellness Mondays, Time Out Tuesdays and “Addressing Reality,” which is geared toward African-American identifying students. McGruder hopes to increase group numbers this spring.
One change this spring is that Downs will now be facilitating the Survivors of Sexual Assault group in place of an outside facilitator.
Ehrlich hopes that along with growth in group counseling, the new director will be able to work with faculty on concerns about student health that they might hold. This initiative is already beginning under McGruder, who is meeting with each department chair to discover what concerns they have and how the Counseling Center can assist them.
“I think I want someone who is creative,” Ehrlich said. “The sacred 50-minute hour where you just talk to your counselor is really important, but I also think we have to think outside of the box and do things beyond that, so the groups are a really good start.”