Le Moyne Adopts “Public Health” Model to Address Student Mental Health

Featured below, a flyer for the “Hope Walks Here” fundraiser and awareness event happening on campus at Le Moyne on April 23rd, presented by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.


Stephen Huffaker, Staff Writer

With the emergence of mental health as a major concern among Le Moyne students and administration, campus officials say that the College’s approach to the issue is changing. 

The College is implementing a number of new initiatives to manage and improve student mental health. These initiatives are informed by a new treatment model which takes a broad, comprehensive approach to the mental health crisis on campus.

In the spring of 2021, students staged an on-campus protest to challenge what they saw as the College’s failure to adequately address the poor state of student mental health.

Anne Kearney, dean of student wellbeing, and Maria Randazzo, director of the Wellness Center, share their insights on Le Moyne’s shifting approach to this important issue.  

Both Kearney and Randazzo describe Le Moyne’s new approach as a “public health” model that treats mental illness as a threat to the well-being of the public, or in this case, the Le Moyne community. “The suicide crisis, the mental health crisis, has got to be treated like a public health issue,” says Randazzo. 

According to the Campus Suicide Prevention Center of Virginia, a public health model contains three key factors. Firstly, it is comprehensive; it promotes education and early intervention across the entire community. Secondly, it is data-driven; it uses data to identify particular needs and relies on this data to shape programming. Finally, it is multidisciplinary; it encourages members of the campus community at all levels, including students, staff, faculty, and administration, to get involved.

Le Moyne’s new approach to mental health programming incorporates these three factors to various degrees. 

For example, Kearney explains Le Moyne’s use of the Early Alert Student Exchange (EASE) system. Co-chaired by Alison Farrell, assistant dean for student success, and Mark Godleski, assistant dean for student development, the EASE system provides faculty and staff the ability to alert a select committee of staff members if they believe a student is in need of mental health support. Faculty and staff submit these “students of concern” through a Canvas portal, after which each student is assigned a staff member to support them in a case management system. The EASE system enables members of the Le Moyne community to engage in early intervention so that a student can receive mental health support before reaching the point of crisis. 

According to Randazzo, early intervention is an ideal way to address mental health: “We [the counselors at the Wellness Center] are kind of the last stop. People can intervene at any point before it gets to be a crisis,” she says. 

Le Moyne’s new approach is both more proactive and more personal, both Kearney and Randazzo say. Rather than taking a top-down, administration-driven approach to wellness programming, this new model relies on staff members to initiate personal, genuine connection with students. 

According to Kearney, “Our approach to programming is shifting. In the past, Student Affairs folks would just set up programs and wait for students to sign up…we would just sort of sit back and wait for students to come to our programs. The model now is shifting towards where we, the staff, are reaching out.” 

“Students want to know us as people. They don’t want us to just process them through an experience. They want to have relationships with us and they want to be in relationship with us versus us just giving them some advice or a list of things that might help,” she says. 

Randazzo described student needs using a concept called “relational authority.” Relational authority refers to young people’s desire to connect with older people, particularly those in positions of authority, on a personal level. 

Accordingly, Student Development is also working more closely with faculty to encourage sensitivity to students’ mental health needs. For example, at the beginning of this semester, Kearney met with the entire faculty of the Madden School of Business to discuss student mental health. 

“[We’re] helping faculty sort out how to hold students accountable, but at the same time have compassion and understand more that mental health and mental illness are real things, and they need to be sensitive to these things when they come up in their students. So again, it’s requiring faculty to change their role just like ours,” she says.  

Other plans focus on students’ role in supporting one another. One possible plan is to offer a new, one-credit course to freshmen on mindfulness, stress management, decision-making, and emotional regulation and intelligence. The course would be taught by staff including Kearney, Randazzo, Farrell, and Godleski. After a student finished the course, they could be hired as a “peer wellness ambassador” who could act as an ambassador to clubs, appear on panel discussions, and hold office hours for peer counseling. “What Le Moyne is kind of missing is this peer model,” says Kearney. 

Last semester, Le Moyne joined five other New York colleges and institutions in bringing the Consortium on Trauma, Illness and Grief (TIG) to their institutions. As part of the TIG initiative, approximately a dozen Le Moyne staff members have received training in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), an international best-practice protocol for addressing post-crisis trauma. “It’s more boots on the ground when there’s a crisis or tragedy on campus,” says Kearney. Le Moyne will also incorporate CISM into the emergency management procedures followed by Campus Security. 

In terms of data-driven measures, Student Development is currently in the process of analyzing the results of the Healthy Minds Survey conducted last semester. 702 students responded to the Healthy Minds Survey, roughly 24% of the undergraduate population at Le Moyne. Of those 702 respondents, approximately 12.5% indicated that they had thought about suicide in the past month. 

The analysis is being performed by a small working group of faculty, staff, and students. According to Kearney, the working group hopes to finish analyzing the data before the end of the semester. In the summer, they will begin to use comparative data to measure Le Moyne against national trends in mental health. Following the completion of the analysis, Le Moyne will begin implementing recommendations based on the data in the fall of 2023. 

As far as results go, both Kearney and Randazzo report that, anecdotally, students have responded very positively to this more personalized approach. “I think we’re going in the right direction with this,” says Randazzo. Both shared stories of students expressing how positively their relationships with them have affected the students. Randazzo says that after just one conversation, one student told her he didn’t know where he would be without her support. 

However, according to Kearney, Le Moyne has yet to formally measure the effects of these new efforts, though Student Development will likely employ the Healthy Minds Survey every other year. Additionally, given the complex factors that contribute to student mental health, Kearney says that it can be difficult to pinpoint which specific measures lead to improvements.  

In summary, this new model focuses on creating a more global support network for students by empowering all members of the Le Moyne community to connect with and support each other. Kearney quotes Shaun Crisler, associate provost for student development, to describe the broader campus community’s part in managing mental health: “We all have a role, that’s what Shaun would say.”  

“Any successful business has a good product. And Le Moyne’s product is its people,” says Randazzo.