The Wellness Center has a new director. Kate McCarthy will assume the role full-time, after serving as the interim director during the spring semester. McCarthy will be succeeding former director Cynthia Hennard, who resigned from the position earlier this summer after five years on the job.
Overall, McCarthy sees this promotion as a summation of her life’s work in the social and behavioral sciences.
“It was an exciting opportunity to be the interim director, and an even more exciting opportunity to apply to become the director of the Wellness Center,” said McCarthy. “I have been working in college mental health for my whole second career. It has always been my goal to get to this point, so it was kind of amazing to get to see it happen. And Johnson is such an amazing community that it seems like the perfect place to take that step.”
McCarthy also maintains that Hennard will have a lasting influence on the Wellness Center.
“Cynthia has been a wonderful mentor and guide for me,” says McCarthy. “She let me know that she’s still open to conversations when things come up. I definitely feel like I’m following in some pretty big shoes. Cynthia was wonderful, and I think everyone has very wonderful memories of her and the work that she did.”
However, as with any change in leadership, there will be some nuances with the way McCarthy and her staff coordinate appointments in an effort to meet students’ needs exactly when they need to be met.
“Nationwide, college counselling centers are working as hard as they can to meet the needs of the students. We are making a few minor adjustments to put us in the best position to meet the needs of the students here at Johnson,” said McCarthy. “One thing that we are doing a little bit differently than in the past is that students’ initial meetings with us will be shorter – they’ll be about 25 minutes. The goal of that is to get you in really quickly for that 25-minute meeting so that you don’t have to wait a week and a half for that initial meeting. That initial meeting is going to give us the chance to get to know the student and what that student needs.”
In addition to a change in scheduling, McCarthy is insistent that running small activities across campus, in conjunction with the standard meeting-by-appointment model, helps her department transcend the title of a ‘counselling center’ to become a wellness center.
“I think calling ourselves the Wellness Center means more than simply a counselling center, and I think we have a responsibility to meet that title of our department. We are working hard this semester to offer wellness activities,” said McCarthy. “There will continue to be Cookies and Coloring that occurred last year. We’ll most likely have another Mindfulness Meditation group, and we are hoping to have a group focused on the outdoors following along the lines of eco-psychology. We are also hoping to have a dream group – a space to explore dreams in a group setting – and we are playing with the idea of having a healthy eating group where our plug is going to be smoothies: Come to the Wellness Center and make a smoothie, talk about healthy eating and body image.”
The other facet of McCarthy’s long-term plans for the Wellness Center is creating advocacy groups based on issues surrounding sexual violence prevention and nondiscriminatory amendments, such as Title IX, among the student body here at Johnson.
“That’s the challenge in any work: How are we going to get this message out to reach the people that we want to reach?” McCarthy says. “Before coming to Johnson, I did a lot of work on college campuses around Title IX and raising awareness about the rights that students have, and the rights of survivors. In my experience, the best way to spread messages across college campuses is through the students.
“It’s a long-term goal of mine to work on identifying the students in the community who are interested in being a part of a group who is tasked with spreading those messages around healthy relationships, around promoting a diverse and healthy community,” McCarthy adds. “The message really has to come from your peers . . . It’s really best to identify a group of students who are interested and then work with them through training and cultivating their knowledge to empower them to be the voices on campus.”
McCarthy’s ultimate goal as the new director is to create a stigma-free environment in which students can freely navigate and set up appointments on an as-needed basis. Part of meeting that goal, she says, is simply for the student to be seen, heard, and welcomed without the pressure of needing an appointment.
“We, as a staff, try to get into as many different trainings and classrooms as we can, just to talk about who we are and what we do,” says McCarthy. “We are trying to reduce that stigma of just walking in our door by having other things in the building like the relaxation room and light therapy. You could be coming in to just hang out, not only for individual counselling. We are trying to broaden what we do to get more of an in-and-out flow into the Wellness Center.”