OSUSPP Interviewee: Sarah Clapp, MC, LPC.
PROS Interviewer: Tori Abell
Sarah is a Graduate Administrative Assistant with RUOK? Buckeyes within the OSU Suicide Prevention Program. RUOK? Buckeyes is an online survey questionnaire to advocate for graduate and professional students by providing resources and assistance.
Tori: To begin, can you describe the work that you do with RUOK? Buckeyes and OSUSPP? What is your background story and how did you get involved?
Sarah: This is my third year working with OSUSPP in my role with RUOK? Buckeyes. I am a PhD candidate in the Counselor Education Program and was brought into OSU Suicide Prevention Program my first year here, as a graduate assistant. With RUOK? Buckeyes, we partner with graduate and professional programs on campus because graduate professional students are at an elevated risk for suicidality. I partner with these programs to roll out, RUOK? Buckeyes, which is an evidence-based interactive screening program that we use in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It is an online stress and depression questionnaire that students can voluntarily take, and it is anonymous and confidential. They connect with me online when they take a survey, and I am a licensed professional counselor, so I have some expertise and knowledge in these areas. Students get a personalized response from me, and then they have the option to dialogue with me online, meaning exchanging messages through the platform to learn about all the resources that can assist them with their concerns. It is not always relegated to mental health; yes, I recommend counseling consultation services a lot, but there’s also other services on campus students aren’t aware of, and I try to be holistic in how I recommend resources. So, I might also recommend the Dennis Learning Center for academic coaching or the Student Wellness Center for wellness coaching, or financial coaching at Scarlett and Grey Financial. There’s a lot of different resources on campus that can assist graduate students with the stress of that they’re experiencing, hopefully allowing them to feel more comfortable as students at OSU.
Tori: Can I ask, how you got passionate about this topic, and why you’re interested in helping graduate students in particular?
Sarah: I think because it hits close to home, like I am a graduate student, and I am going to my sixth year. Yeah, so I have a master’s degree and that was two years, and this is my third year of my PhD and hopefully I’ll be able to finish my PhD next year. So, initially, my background was in mental health. I have a master’s in clinical mental health counseling from Arizona State University, and there I worked closely with the counseling center there to do Suicide Prevention initiatives. So, it felt natural for me to then enter a role at OSU doing a very similar thing. For example, we had our own version of the REACH training basically at ASU, so I had some experience with that. I think being a graduate student myself, gives me a lot of empathy and a lot of contextualized experience when working with RUOK? Buckeyes. I have also taken a lot of feminist theory classes and critical theory classes, so I have really gotten into critiquing the system and the overall institution of academia, as far as how graduate students are situated and the stressors that they deal with, as well as how institutions provide for their graduate students. So, I really got interested starting with looking at my own situatedness but then looking to other graduate and professional students around me, and it’s evolved into a dissertation on graduate student mental health and Suicide Prevention support. It honestly felt like a natural “A, B, C, D” in terms of my own personal journey.
Tori: Great! So, how does your work with RUOK? Buckeyes tie into community wellness mental health of suicide prevention specifically on our campus?
Sarah: Well, Suicide is a recognized public health issue. With public health issues, those are issues that are systemic in nature. They are not isolated in a vacuum and they are not individualized. So, when I think of Suicide Prevention, it is way more than someone having a depression diagnosis and feeling suicidal right? That person exists within a series of nested systems that can either provide support, or stressors and challenges. So, thinking about suicide as a problem is to also recognize that something like affordable housing, food stamps and disability services are all resources of suicide prevention. Suicide Prevention is comprehensive, anything that can take stressors out of somebody’s life. And when I think about our institution Ohio State, it is way more than an individual problem in an individual student. It’s a culture within an institution. Is that culture supportive of people seeking help? Or does it contribute to the perpetuation of stigma which is one of the biggest barriers to somebody going into a counseling office and talking with someone. I think that the Suicide Prevention Program, better than any other program that I’ve seen on other campuses, does so much work to spearhead that conversation, and we know that the more we talk about suicide prevention and what that is, it reduces the fear that people have towards that topic and makes people more likely to talk about it and engaged in conversations. When that happens, stigma is reduced, and people do feel like they can get support. So, it is campus wide, and community wide, institution wide, statewide, and nationwide. We must think about Suicide Prevention as existing within all these systems, and really critiquing the culture and the climate of those systems to see if they are conducive to someone accessing help or if they present insurmountable barriers. So, I am proud to be a part of OSUSPP, because of all the REACH training and REACH OUT sessions along with all of the advocacy that we do to reduce the stigma on our campus and make everyone aware that this is a campus responsibility.
Tori: Right, a campus culture of care. As a broad statement, what does this mean to you?
Sarah: I think it is a culture that actively works to reduce stigma and actively communicates to the actors within the system and culture that resources are available. Specifically for suicide, there are other options. You don’t have to kill yourself, there are ways that we can help you get through this crisis that you are in right now and it does not have to end in death. I think of a campus culture of care being active and not a passive culture. It is not a culture where you just kind of move through and you do your own thing and live in your own world, but you’re an active participant in the community and you’re not afraid to take the risk of engaging in a difficult conversation, like talking to someone that you’re worried about who maybe you’re noticing some red flags and warning signs in. You’re willing to take the risk, be uncomfortable, have hard conversations, and then really engage in advocacy by doing your part to be an active participant in your culture to reduce stigma and make people aware of all the resources in their environment that can support them.
Tori: As we know, graduate students are an at-risk population partially due to factors of isolation. I am curious to hear your perspective on how graduate and professional students are this year, given that COVID has perpetuated isolation as an even larger factor than it was prior.
Sarah: Sure, so my perspective on it, which is not research based but my perspective, is that graduate school in general, in the best of years, can already be a very isolating experience. When you’re in graduate school, it can really take over your life with internship hours, research credits, publishing and writing articles, and all these very difficult tasks that you must do in order to complete graduate school. Getting through a graduate degree is highly stressful. Graduate students and professional students can often feel isolated from their family, peers, friends, and spouses who are not in graduate school or familiar with this particular experience. So, there are these sacrifices that must be made between your academic and personal life that is in constant flux. As far as covid, I mean, Graduate school – already a very isolating experience – and then you add a global pandemic on top of that, so now you’re even physically isolated and it’s like a double jeopardy on that isolation. Especially for graduate students who are out of state, many of whom have not seen their families in over a year. So, a lot of students can’t go home or want to wait until they are vaccinated and do the responsible thing to wait to travel. In RUOK? Buckeyes, after responding to 400+ surveys of students this year, isolation has been a consistent theme. I am hearing a lot of students who know they are doing the right and responsible thing by not leaving my house, but who say they are so lonely and have no idea what to do with all this isolation.
Tori: How can fellow buckeyes get connected to RUOK? Buckeyes?
Sarah: The way that students get access to the survey, is that their program has to partner with us because there is a special invitation with a special link that we give to each program who opts in. There are typically two graduate assistants that work with RUOK? Buckeyes and that is me and Mark Hamilton right now. I am in charge of the original programs, so I work to facilitate roll-outs with programs who have already partner with us and are established. Mark reaches out to new programs to seek new partnership opportunities. We do advocacy at different student events when the campus was open, where we could go do tabling events to talk with students, staff, and faculty. We do a lot of grassroots connection, where we inform the students and encourage them to talk to the people in their program who can help them get connected to us and facilitate this program. It is quite the community effort, we rely on folks who help advocate for us and be our ambassadors, but also finding those spaces within the university where we can go advocate for ourselves and let people know that this is a thing, and we would love your graduate program to be involved. We highly encourage students to ask their program about us and if they could partner with us or reach out to me or Mark and we will do the legwork for them!
To learn more about RUOK? Buckeyes, click here, or send an email to email@example.com.