Black Christian college offers students free online therapy amid rise in lockdown stress

The entrance sign at Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas | Wikimedia Commons/Hot Furnace

Students at a historically black Christian college in Texas, as well as several other colleges across the nation, will have access to free mental health therapy for one year as many struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As students are now forced into a period of remote learning during the fall semester, Charles Smith, vice president of Student Services at Jarvis Christian College, explained that the school is seeing that some “students are really dealing with some mental health problems.”

“They are just going through stress and all kinds of things with parents losing jobs and them not being able to return to school,” he told The Christian Post. “We have students who rely on us as a place for them to live. We have some students who have also been homeless and they are not able to return to residence halls. A lot of them are dealing with other issues of mental health.”

Jarvis Christian College, which is affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in East Texas, announced this month that it received a grant from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund allowing it to give students struggling mentally during the pandemic access to licensed therapists through META Teletherapy

META describes itself as an “online wellness platform built specifically for students to connect with counselors for private and secure counseling via mobile platform.”

“The [United Negro College Fund] did a survey for schools that are part of UNCF. When we got our data back, our data indicated that 68% of our students had indicated that there had been a significant decline in their mental health and financial well-being,” Smith said.

Jarvis Christian College was contacted by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a nonprofit organization that serves historically black colleges and universities. Smith said the organization provided a grant for the college to be able to partner with META to offer anonymous therapy for students. 

“For a year, they told us that this service would be free for our students until September 2021,” Smith said. “This service is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. META has put together a group of licensed therapists who are certified. They also have an app that students can download, allowing them to select a counselor that they feel comfortable with based on their background.” 

The students will be able to contact the counselors and make appointments through the video-based telemedicine app. 

“They are also taking care of the cost for the therapists’ time,” the college’s vice president said of the grant. “In addition to us using META through their platform, they are also paying for the time that the students spend with the therapist. They can have up to, I think, about five sessions.”

Smith assured CP that “all the costs have been taken care of through the grant.” According to Smith, the grant from Thurgood Marshall College Fund was $50,000. He added that there are a total of eight HBCUs participating in the initiative.

The new partnership is expected to take a large load off the college’s lone counselor. 

“We have one counselor trying to service our 700-plus students,” Smith explained. “So we see this is another resource to where, if they can’t get ahold of [the counselor], they can at least get online and find someone they can talk with.”

The administration and staff were concerned about the escalation of suicide attempts and homelessness, Smith said, in addition to challenges faced by students who are having to get jobs to support themselves and their families. 

“During this time, mental health issues have just escalated. … We just felt that our counselor was just having a full caseload,” he added. “So META offered this opportunity for us and we just jumped at it.”

Smith, who is trained as a counselor, appreciates that the META mobile app is available for students late at night since many people that age stay up late. He also likes that it offers an additional layer of confidentiality not available in the traditional in-person counseling setting. 

“A lot of students today are private and they have issues they are dealing with and they don’t want to talk to mom or dad about it or their friends,” he said. “A lot of times, walking into the counselor’s office on campus is scary for some students. But now, they can talk to someone who may be on the other side of the country and they don’t have to worry about seeing the person the next day.” 

In addition to mental health concerns, other challenges are making remote learning difficult for some Jarvis Christian College students. 

“We discovered that we have some students who live in places where they don’t have access to the internet. We discovered that a lot of them didn’t have their own computers,” Smith explained. “That was creating stress for them.”

The college has also launched a program to provide students with laptops, Smith said. 

“We have hot spots so they can have instant access to the internet. It's difficult for all students because online learning has historically been something that is for people 24 years of age and older,” he noted. “Now, for all of our students to have all their instructions online and through Zoom and different platforms that we purchase for our faculty to use, it's just a difficult time.” 

The college also had to make adjustments to class schedules since some students needed to get jobs during the pandemic. 

“Our Zoom classes were set like regular classes as if they were on campus. We found out that students had difficulty with that because they're working because they had to go and get jobs,” he said.

“Most people know that you have to be very disciplined and have to be a great time manager when you're dealing with online instruction. You have your class hours, but it's not like you can leave your residence hall and go to class. It's a lot of stress for our students to deal with the classes and all the other factors they're dealing with at home.”

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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