Black Caucus hopes wellness pilot project is just the beginning of culturally-congruent care on campus

After a successful month-long mental wellness pilot project for Black students, faculty and staff, the UBC Black Caucus hopes the university can work to fill the gap in culturally-congruent wellness services on campus.

The project, led by the Black Caucus with funding from the IBPOC Connections initiative in the Equity & Inclusion Office, ran for the month of March and provided Black community members with free counselling sessions with Black counsellors.

Ali Tatum, who led the project, said that the need for mental health support emerged from Black Caucus sessions held last year.

“Last year and this year … there’s been an extra strain on Black people with all of the events that have been happening in the news. We really just wanted to support the Black community at UBC and respond to what they had asked for,” Tatum said.

Tatum said the Black Caucus is still gathering feedback on the project, but so far it’s been positive.

“Counsellors themselves said that people accessing services were really relieved and happy to have the opportunity. They felt like it was a really important program that we put together, and the spaces filled up so quickly that they ... felt that really highlighted the gap in care.”

Tatum said anti-Black racism is a “unique experience” and not one that can be fully understood by someone who has not lived it.

“It causes a lot of trauma … and it’s built into the systems that we operate within, so education, government, in all levels of systems, there’s anti-Black racism.

“...We know that in other health spaces having culturally-matched care results in better outcomes and the thought was that this might also carry over into mental health.”

The program only had funding for one month — 52 sessions — but Tatum said she hopes that it continues and develops into something that is more than simply a pilot project.

Tatum said she didn’t know if the mental health services currently in place at UBC are enough to meet the needs of people dealing with anti-Black racism or racism in general.

Students currently have access to the Student Assistance Program, UBC Counselling and the provincial service Here2Talk, but racialized students have spoken of the difficulties of having to explain their lived realities to white counsellors.

Tatum encouraged the university to hire more diverse full-time counsellors for students, staff and faculty.

“I’m really hoping that this pilot project will give us the opportunity to explore more opportunities for future care for various communities as well, because I think that there are other communities who could use this type of matched care,” she said.