Campus program supports students’ mental health through pandemic


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The Behavioral Intervention Response Team started in 2016. The BIRT team connects students with the resources they may need.

The Behavioral Intervention Response Team is a campus committee of faculty and staff that supports students and their mental health.
BIRT is a “multidisciplinary team that includes faculty, classified professionals, campus police, our College Nurse, and administrators,” said Interim Dean Hong Pham.
The BIRT team works to address situations for students in need and connects them with resources that support them in their time of struggle, according to the CRC website.
“It’s like this group concierge service to look at the description of the student of concern through multiple lenses,” Pham said.
The program works as a pipeline for faculty and classified professionals to get students in distress into the system. Once BIRT is notified, the team works to get the student where they need to be, said College Nurse Michelle Barkley.
This process was put into place in 2016 by Dr. Shannon Cooper, a former dean of counseling, as a holistic way for the school to support students, said Eva Rhodes, the counseling supervisor.
“There was a gap in services or support for students who were suffering,” Rhodes said. “There’s been a relief for instructors and staff, that they have this tool they can use because they’re very concerned about their students.”
The BIRT team, while based on a framework from the National Association of Behavioral Intervention and Threat Assessment, was uniquely structured by Cooper to serve the interests of the school. This included the support of the campus police chief at the time, Cheryl Sears.
“I want to give a shout out to, back then, our Chief of Police Cheryl Sears,” Barkley said. “She was a big mover and shaker for this to happen on all the campuses.”
Though no specifics were shared, Pham said the current campus Police Chief Jay Lampano had implemented new training to increase the campus police’s ability to respond appropriately to behavioral intervention that requires law enforcement.
Pham said she was confident in the abilities of the team to handle reports swiftly and effectively.
“I think because of the level of expertise that’s on the team, I believe that also provides an avenue of trust and credibility,” said Pham. “We’re not hobbyists; we’re experts.”
Though students can refer other students to the program, it is really geared toward use by faculty. This has caused a bit of a problem due to the COVID-19 pandemic and remote teaching.
Rhodes said that the dynamic has changed, and professors and students can no longer be in the same physical space, making referrals challenging.
“In the past, you’d notice a student was either wearing the same outfit all the time or starting to look disheveled,” Pham said. “Without that, all they have really is writing.”
Looking at the students’ writing has been the main focus of the faculty now. The faculty have reported noticing the raw emotion being poured into it and have been able to respond appropriately, said Barkley.
Despite the challenges the pandemic has created for BIRT, Pham said she is ultimately emphatic about the program and sees a bright future ahead at CRC. The administration has pledged full support for the program as well, which tells that the school is taking a proactive approach to mental health, Pham said.