In an effort to be more inclusive, an informal counseling service at the University of Minnesota extended its space to the International Student and Scholar Services this fall semester.
The Let’s Talk program is a support service that has provided informal drop-in consultations at various locations around campus since January 2018. This new space will provide international students, along with other University students, with a friendly environment and increase accessibility for West Bank students.
“We recognize there is some stigma among some international students and they might be hesitant to access mental health counseling,” said Nina Hernandez Beithon, coordinator of the Let's Talk program at Student Counseling Services. "We wanted to be able to bring a program to ISSS, which is a place that they might already be connected to in order to ease some of that ability to access support.”
In total, 148 students visited Let’s Talk spaces across campus during the last academic year, and approximately 11 of them identified as international students, according to Hernandez Beithon. She said she believed Let’s Talk saw more than that because people have the option to fill out the self-identifying paperwork.
“The hope of it is that we're able to provide increased access to mental health support for folks that might be hesitant to access counseling services for a variety of reasons,” Hernandez Beithon said.
Alisa Eland, an ISSS associate director and head of counseling and advising, explained the benefits of having such a space at ISSS.
"One is to make international students more aware of the service and the fact that it's here. This is a place where international students come. So that'll help make them more aware," Eland said.
Chia-Chen Tu, a staff psychologist at Student Counseling Services, speaks Mandarin. She joined Let's Talk this fall.
"Chinese-speaking students are our largest group of international students and so this means that Chinese-speaking students who meet with her can choose to speak English or Chinese," Eland said.
Eland said it's an added benefit that she speaks Chinese and some students may feel more comfortable seeking support when they can speak their native language. The program plans to hire another Chinese-speaking counselor later this fall.
Students are able to choose the location and counselor of their choice, as the counselors’ background information is on the Let’s Talk website. Hernandez Beithon said this makes students feel more comfortable.
"That's been a really big draw for students, especially students of color who've been able to choose exactly who they want to meet with and what types of experiences their counselor will have," Hernandez Beithon said.
Tu emphasized the Let's Talk program is open to all students, not just international students.
Hernandez Beithon said they also know that some students may feel more comfortable going somewhere where they would not see any other students that they would likely know.
"The program is completely anonymous. It can be really good for confidentiality reasons that way," she said.