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Published: 10/11/2013 - Updated: 6 months ago

Public health education a Toledo concern

Elimination of 2 counselors raises questions on campus

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
UT senior Jonathon Hilvers drinks beer during the Rockets’ football game last weekend at the Glass Bowl. This is the first year UT has allowed the sale of alcohol at sporting events. UT senior Jonathon Hilvers drinks beer during the Rockets’ football game last weekend at the Glass Bowl. This is the first year UT has allowed the sale of alcohol at sporting events.
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Changes in how University of Toledo approaches key public health areas raised concern among some that budget cuts caused a reduced focus in those areas.

Gone are two advocates focused on prevention and education in alcohol, drugs, and sexual assault. The university split their duties among committees and campus counselors, an approach they say is better because it includes more staff in the process.

Some on campus also note that while UT was undergoing these changes, it was in the midst of allowing alcohol sales on campus in more than a decade, a juxtaposition that raises questions about the university’s priorities.

The university in January eliminated the two positions, but concerns continue to be raised on campus. While university officials say the positions were not sacrificed to save money, they haven’t been filled. Their vacancies came while UT struggled with a projected $36 million deficit and had proposed budget cuts, increased course loads for professors, and larger class sizes.

A Faculty Senate report to UT’s Board of Trustees in late August questioned the new approach.

“Our students need more support, not less,” Faculty Senate President Linda Marie Rouillard wrote.

“I fear we are not living up to the standards we should meet.”

The new approach raised complaints that UT cut models that showed results and replaced them with unproven approaches, that already stretched departments are being asked to do more with less, and that the university was focused only on after-the-fact counseling while ignoring prevention and the public health aspect.

Advocates on campus said they believed counselors and other staff leading the new approach are dedicated and care about these issues, but the larger message the university is sending is not one of institutional support.

“I think it is safe to say that the university’s priorities are where they put their dollars,” said Sharon Barnes, a professor in the Women and Gender studies. “And I think that it’s pretty obvious that eliminating the alcohol and tobacco education and sexual assault education programs indicates that this is not a high priority.”

University administrators said they care strongly about these issues, and that if the new approach proves less effective, they’ll reconsider.

“Everything we’ve had prior to this year we continue to have, and we will continue to have,” said Kaye Patten-Wallace, UT’s senior vice president for student affairs.

She said many of the concerns about the new approach are based on a resistance to change.

“Any time you have change, you are going to get resistance and push back,” Ms. Patten-Wallace said.

Early this year, the university terminated its alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention specialist Alexis Blavos, who is also a graduate student at UT. Ms. Blavos said she was told UT eliminated her position because it thought employees in the counseling department could handle her job.

In her role, she led efforts to implement a partial smoking ban on campus, pushed for a medical amnesty policy that encouraged students to report alcohol or drug-related medical emergencies without fear of discipline, led advocacy and education campaigns, and referred students to counselors, Ms. Blavos said. She conducted orientation sessions for faculty members, met with parents, and talked to students who had gotten in trouble for alcohol or drug violations.

Tavis Glassman, a UT professor of health education, was a member of a university committee whose recommendations led to Ms. Blavos’ hiring. Data collected by the committee showed reductions in students transferred to an ER for alcohol poisoning, arrested for drunken driving on or near campus, or cited for university alcohol violations.

Counseling Center Director Stanley Edwards said counseling for students struggling with alcohol and drugs will continue. He said education and prevention efforts will be led by a new committee that includes campus experts in the field. Instead of a single person leading those efforts, each expert will be in charge of some elements. University officials said this helps put many “fingers out in the community.”

“We are continuing the services and programs that we have offered in the past, but we are working more as a team,” Mr. Edwards said.

Alcohol sales OK

The state in July issued UT a permit to sell alcohol on campus. Alcohol is now available at a restaurant in the Student Union and some sports facilities. In the past alcohol was only available to visitors of the press tower of the Glass Bowl and the suite area at Savage Arena.

UT police Chief Jeff Newton said his department hasn’t seen an increase in alcohol-related calls since liquor sales were approved and that serving alcohol on campus sometimes means drinking is done in a more controlled environment.

“If [drinking] is done legally and responsibly, we have very few issues,” he said.

Some of the new approaches UT is taking are shared at Bowling Green State University, such as the use of peer educators — an approach Ms. Thompson criticized as ineffective. But the university also centers its prevention and education efforts through its Wellness Connections, Dean of Students Jodi Webb said, with a full-time director and graduate students.

Around the time Ms. Blavos was terminated, UT also lost longtime coordinator of sexual assault education and prevention Diane Docis, who took a position with a Minnesota organization. Ms. Docis was also the advocate for victims, carrying a cell phone at all hours to respond to reports of sexual assaults, Ms. Barnes said.

The program moved into the counseling center after Ms. Docis left. University officials say there are now five counselors on campus who were trained by the YWCA Hope Center in survivor response, which gives stronger coverage during a crisis. They’ve also created a Sexual Assault Awareness Committee, a work group that meets once a month to lead education and prevention efforts.

Ms. Barnes said basing the program in the counseling center has advantages. Social workers have protections against disclosing identities that others may not, she said. She was confident that training by the Hope Center was effective and that the counselors care about their roles, but said the university lost a respected leader in the field when Ms. Docis left.

The UT Student Senate passed a resolution earlier this year asking the university to reconsider the eliminations of the prevention programs and positions. Lauren Jencen, the student senator that sponsored the resolution, said she believed UT added programming since then and doesn’t have immediate concerns about the university taking those issues seriously.

But Ms. Jencen said she is concerned the university has not advertised the new services and that students believe there aren’t any available. Ms. Patten-Wallace said the changes are still new and that the university would constantly assess them. If changes were needed, she said, they would be made.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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