The Ithaca College Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL) is partnering with Inner Harbor, a grief resource program that supports college students and trains staff, for the 2021–22 academic year to provide the college community with grief resources.
Hierald Osorto, executive director for student equity and belonging and religious and spiritual life, announced Aug. 20 through Intercom that the ORSL will be providing four different types of services throughout the year. The first is virtual office hours with Mandi Zucker, founder and president of Inner Harbor, for the college staff where they will talk about grief related issues within the classroom. These office hours will occur every second Monday of the month, beginning in September.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students, faculty and staff at the college since the beginning. More than 650,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since late February 2020, according to Forbes on Sept. 8, 2021. Many have lost family members and loved ones as a result.
OMEGA- Journal of Death and Dying published a recent study that found college students across the country are experiencing immense loss and grief due to COVID-19. The study found that 85% of college students were significantly affected by the pandemic.
Osorto said ORSL has been providing grief resources since 2019. It partnered with the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to offer weekly group therapy sessions called “Meaning Making for Grief and Loss.”
“Supporting someone through the loss of a loved one is a community endeavor,” Osorto said. “As an institution, we recognize the importance of caring for one another when we gather to honor the loss of one of our own.”
Brian Peterson, clinical psychologist and director of CAPS said the college began offering more grief resources back in June 2020 when the college received a grant from The Jed Foundation (JED).
According to its website, JED empowers teens and young adults by building resiliency and life skills, promoting social connectedness and encouraging help-seeking and help-giving behaviors through its nationally recognized programs, digital channels and partnerships, as well as through the media.
“We’re trying to create a community of wellness,” Peterson said. “We have a grant from the JED Campus Foundation to really do a deep dive in what we need to do at Ithaca to create a mental health community and wellness community. The goal right now is that it’s a shared responsibility and everyone on campus should at least be supportive of other people.”
CAPS offers individual counseling for grief and loss. Students are able to register for individual appointments where a counselor will assess clinical needs, give recommendations, and identify appropriate resources.
Inner Harbor will be holding a training for staff called, “How to Support Grieving Students on Campus,” at 11 a.m. Sept. 24 in Muller Chapel. This will be followed by another workshop in the spring, but the date is still to be determined.
Zucker described her goal through Inner Harbor as being to train “regular” people about grief support.
“Every single college campus in this country is short staffed”, Zucker said. “Every college counseling center is short staffed. My goal is really to train your teachers, your religious life staff, your coaches, your RAs, your roommates. Just so they know how to listen to someone who’s going through something painful.”
CAPS has faced criticism over the years by students for the long wait times and lack of counselors. In 2019, CAPS hired new staff members and implemented a 24-hour call service in order to help remedy these issues. It is currently offering treatment via telehealth.
Throughout the fall semester, a guide to cope with grief will also be released and available to all faculty and students.
Sophomore Sophia Testani said she has been going to CAPS for a few weeks.
“CAPS has allowed me to talk about things that I’m not necessarily comfortable talking about with my friends or family,” Testani said.
She said she recommends her fellow peers to reach out to the counseling service.
“Even if you just need a place to get it all out, CAPS is there and willing to listen,” Testani said.
Inner Harbor plans to take 12 students on a free overnight weekend retreat during the spring for students who have experienced a significant death loss.
“If you identify as somebody who has experienced a significant death loss you can come to this retreat,” Zucker said. “We don’t have a date specifically yet, but it will be on a weekend in the spring where you get to come be with other people who’ve experienced a similar loss, learn about some of the coping tools and how to be a good listener to other people. I’m super excited about that.”
Zucker said she launched Inner Harbor on Aug. 29, 2020, a year after her son lost a friend. His death made her realize how little support students have on their college campuses. Zucker said her goal is to show students on college campuses that grief is a normal part of life and something they should all support one another through.
“I want to be in every social work class, in every nursing class, in every PT class,” Zucker said. “I want to do guest lectures there. I want to spread across the campus to any organization looking to learn how to support people who are going through difficult things.”