BVU responds to pandemic

Friday, May 22, 2020

When COVID-19 struck the U.S., educators across the country moved quickly. Leaders at Buena Vista University mobilized as well, enacting plans to extend spring break while making preparations to conclude the semester online, as campus was nearly vacated in an effort to protect health of students, faculty, staff, and the community.

Room - and - board refunds were sent to students, while Student Success worked with the University Development and Alumni Engagement to create a Student Emergency Fund for those in need of financial assistance for a host of reasons related to job loss, transportation costs, internet connectivity and more, all negative outcomes of COVID-19.

When it comes to the mental well-being of students, Julie Anderson, Director of Counseling Services, headed a staff in BVU Counseling Services as they put into a place a system whereby counseling could continue online, unabated.

“Our challenge was to make everything we were doing virtual in a matter of days,” says Anderson. “For counseling, that meant getting our platform in place on Zoom while remaining HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant and trained to deliver telehealth.”

Even before classes resumed, Anderson was joined by interns in BVU’s Mental Health Counseling graduate program in contacting then serving students from the Storm Lake campus as well as those taking classes via BVU’s hybrid and graduate programs.

“Counseling involves being a relational sounding board to help students discover a path that is best or works for them,” Anderson says. “I also teach information about mental health to students and do what I can to give them tools to help them manage issues they are facing.”

This pandemic presents a set of issues perhaps never seen before in the U.S., or throughout the world. Never before have all schools, states, and communities effectively closed for such a long time, requiring students to either return to live with their families, or find a permanent place at which they may reside.

“This pandemic brings unique challenges to each age group. For the college-age group, it’s challenging in that many students are learning to be an adult and live on their own,” Anderson says. “Then, they’re having to return home and discovering that a high school dynamic is returning to the residence. They’re wondering how they navigate it; how their family navigates.”

Additionally, many student-athletes have lost a competitive season in athletics, or the chance to partake in springtime traditions. For many, they’re coping with the fact an internship or a student-teaching assignment didn’t occur.

“They also thought they’d have more time with their friends, their professors, and others,” Anderson says.

Staff members working with students guide them through a locus of control activity. Anderson asks students to create a circle within a larger circle, an illustration of events and activities in their lives. The smaller circle, she notes, represents items over which a student has some control: exercise, connecting with friends and relatives on-line, self-care, etc. The goal involves focusing more time on items within the smaller circle. “We seek to take healthy steps in those areas,” Anderson says.

Additionally, students are directed in ways to set manageable goals. Information and contact for the Center for Academic Excellence is shared.

All sessions are free to students, a service of BVU. “We work on mindfulness,” Anderson continues. “It’s the discipline of learning to live in the moment you’re at right now, non-judgmentally and with an attitude of calm curiosity.”

“I am really glad we had a way to continue to offer counseling services to students virtually as it’s been an incredibly important resource,” Anderson says. “We’ve helped students work toward finishing the term, we’ve advised on how to manage some serious issues involving anxiety, trauma, and depression. We added COVID-19 and the Trauma Response on our website, as this pandemic is a shared global trauma, a kind we’ve never seen before.”

“It’s been rewarding to be able to hold safe space for people,” she concludes. “At the end of many counseling sessions, students are expressing thanks. To be able to connect screen to screen and be able to confide in someone without judgement, it’s very important.”

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