The Southern Utah University Care and Support Team has looked different during the academic year of 2021-22, offering additional mental health support to SUU faculty and staff.
“This year has been mostly focused on our faculty, whereas in previous years it’s been more on students,” Jayci Hacker, the director of the honors program, said. “I think in the future we will strike a better balance. Both are really important — you can’t have one without the other.”
CAST usually holds optional trainings for faculty and staff, one during the fall and one in the spring, that cover topics like mental health, how to become effective listeners, what campus resources are available and suicide prevention.
Hacker said that additional topics were added to the training last fall, such as what self care looks like in the world of COVID-19 and how to connect to students virtually during the pandemic.
It shifted from an in-person training to a week-long virtual training.
“We’ve had more attendance than we’ve ever had, and we will probably do [a mix] of in-person and virtual training going forward,” Hacker said.
In the fall, they also put together “gifts of gratitude” for SUU faculty and staff, ordering over 1,100 mugs stuffed with hot chocolate, stress balls and letters of gratitude from CAST.
“We wanted to let people know that they’re not alone and that this year has been hard for everybody but we’re in it together,” Hacker said.
Five years ago, CAST was launched to offer additional training for faculty and staff to further assist students struggling with emotional distress and mental health issues.
“Our perspective in CAST is really focusing on our staff and faculty with the understanding that they are also the ones supporting our students,” Hacker said.
Hacker was one of the faculty and staff that was concerned about “the higher than normal suicides among our students,”– although those statistics are kept private — and wanted to do something to help.
Others that contributed to the establishment of CAST that Hacker specifically wanted to thank include Johnny MacLean, Curt Hill, Blaine Edwards, Kristina Johnson, Heather Ogden and Jared Tippits.
“We want to create a strong community that supports students and each other,” Hacker said. “We want to make sure students never feel alone and always feel that they belong at SUU.”
This year, CAST put together a shell located on SUU students’ Canvas that lists campus and community resources that are available to campus and staff as well as just students. It includes information about additional on-campus departments, a Counseling and Psychological Services COVID-19 survival guide, self-care tools and more.
“We got together to think about ways to enhance our support for our campus community remotely,” Hacker said. “We partnered with online teaching and learning to put together that Canvas resource.”
Hacker explained that the idea to put this together has been thrown around in the past, but admits that the pandemic provided the motivation they needed to put it together.
“It was a labor of love from a lot of people,” Hacker said.
Hacker said that the pandemic has made mental health issues of the entire community worse, although it’s been a year that has shown her that SUU students, faculty and staff are “outrageously resilient.”
“I was walking around the library the other day and I was just struck at the amount of students that were there, wearing their masks and learning,” Hacker said. “It’s so exciting to see that learning is still happening despite all of these challenges.
Story by: Elizabeth Armstrong
Photos courtesy of Jayci Hacker