Student safety and wellness initiatives at UT institutions receive $7.4 million in support

AUSTIN— As part of The University of Texas System’s continued commitment to support student safety, mental health and wellness initiatives at all 14 UT institutions, the Board of Regents on Tuesday voted to allocate almost $7.4 million to fund 10 different campus-based programs.

Many of the programs have been in place for several years while others – such as sexual assault and harassment prevention toolkits and telehealth mental health services – will provide new services to students.

“The health and well-being of our students is one of our highest priorities,” Board of Regents Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker said. “We need to ensure students are getting the support services they need to overcome whatever challenges they may face while pursuing a degree.”

Also included in the funding approved by Regents Tuesday is $1.4 million for an additional year of the UT System’s groundbreaking sexual harassment and misconduct research initiative, Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments (CLASE). The funding will be used to improve student reporting of sexual harassment and misconduct; evaluate existing prevention and intervention programs; and develop new training materials for students, faculty and staff.

The UT System has long been a national leader in committing resources to student wellness and safety programs. In 2012, the Board became the first in the country to create and fund Collegiate Recovery Centers systemwide to help students in drug and alcohol recovery. In 2014, the Board allocated funding for an after-hours crisis line and bystander intervention initiative on every academic and health campus. And in 2015, the Board approved funding for web-based alcohol and sexual assault prevention training for all incoming students.

Over the past seven years at the UT Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center, there has been a 62 percent increase in the number of counseling sessions. And in a study of over 26,000 college students by UT Austin’s National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education, 26 percent of students reported moderate to substantial mental health concerns in their lifetime, 22 percent had seriously considered suicide at some point in their lives, and 7 percent reported at least one lifetime suicide attempt.

“Giving our students the tools to keep themselves safe and healthy, to intervene to prevent harm to those around them, and to get the mental health support they need is critical to student success,” said Chris Brownson, associate vice president for student affairs and director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center at UT Austin. “These initiatives are an important step in that process. They are truly life-saving and life-changing resources.”

Brownson will coordinate and manage funding of the initiatives on behalf of all the institutions in the System. Part of the funding will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of these safety and wellness programs, which include:

  • ProtoCall: An After-Hours Crisis Counseling Service – This initiative provides mental health crisis support to UT System institutions 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year whether students are located on or off campus.
  • Bystander Intervention Initiatives – This initiative aims to reduce sexual assault, relationship violence, drug overdose, suicide, incidents of bias, hazing, and academic dishonesty through bystander intervention.
  • Collegiate Recovery Centers – These centers allow students in recovery or seeking recovery to have a drug-and alcohol-free college experience, with peers and staff who provide support, education, community, and outreach.
  • Web-based Alcohol Education and Sexual Assault & Harassment Prevention for Students – This training, which has served UT’s eight academic institutions for the past two years, is being expanded to the six health institutions. Online sexual misconduct prevention training also will be provided to faculty and staff.
  • Prevention/Early Intervention for High-Risk Drinking (BASICS) – This evidenced-based program targets students at academic institutions who drink heavily and have experienced negative consequences.
  • Telehealth Video Platform for Mental Health Services and Web-based Video Self-Help Modules – This technology, available to all UT System students, has two parts: (1) an intervention component that consists of mental health modules on anxiety, depression, stress, and substance abuse, among others, and (2) a 20-minute video session with a campus mental health professional.
  • Health Communication Campaign – UT Austin will work in collaboration with its Center for Health Communication at the Moody College of Communication and the Dell Medical School to create messaging related to the intersection of alcohol use and consent.
  • Toolkit on Engaging Men in Sexual Assault and Harassment Prevention – This program is patterned after the MasculinUT Initiative at UT Austin to help engage men in the prevention of sexual assault and harassment.
  • Thrive @ UT: An App to Enhance Student Well-Being – This app uses engaging videos, guided exercises, interactive assignments, and text notifications designed to help students integrate healthy concepts into their daily lives.

Several of these programs, including online sexual misconduct prevention training for faculty and staff and the toolkit to engage men in sexual assault prevention, were specific requests from institutions based on what they had learned from the CLASE study, said Noël Busch-Armendariz, the principal investigator and the director of UT Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault.

“We are shifting from describing the problem to action,” Busch-Armendariz said. “Campuses asked for evidence-based, state-of-the-art, game-changing resources to tackle these issues, and so that is what we will deliver. Our next steps involve providing the campuses with programs and services, toolkits, best practice guides, and program evaluation support. The ultimate goal is to have campus climates where all students can intellectually grow, thrive, and achieve their educational goals.”

About The University of Texas System
Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking basic, applied and clinical research, and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. With 14 institutions and a projected enrollment of more than 234,000 students, the UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates approximately two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public institutions in Texas. The UT System’s operating budget for FY 2018 is $18.3 billion, funded in part by $3.6 billion in sponsored programs from federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 20,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academies – and nearly 80,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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