If you are a student facing financial, food, housing, or academic challenges, email the Office of Student Advocacy and Support at email@example.com or visit their office in Room 270 in the Campus Center. If you are facing a non-emergency mental health challenge, contact CAPS at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit 719 Indiana Ave, Suite 220. More resources are available at https://helpmeroar.iupui.edu.
Ty Davis, assistant dean of students and director of the Office of Student Advocacy and Support, is charged with helping students facing a variety of needs. From academic advocacy to providing emergency resources, Davis and her team help students navigate through life’s challenges.
“Our students don’t leave their needs at the door,” she says. “Before they even step foot on this campus, many don’t have enough. The problem is they don’t know they don’t have enough until they’re here.”
To effectively respond to students’ needs, Davis needed more information. And she wanted it to come to directly from the source.
“We should always ask students what they need; we shouldn’t drive that part of the conversation,” she says. “Their responses should inform our actions.”
The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention was also interested in the needs of IUPUI students. Working with CHIP and researchers from the IU Public Policy Institute, Davis got the answers she needed from nearly 500 students.
Four basic needs areas emerged in the PPI student survey: finances, food, housing, and mental health. But there was also critical information about barriers students face when accessing the university’s support systems.
One was program awareness. Half of students who received on-campus services learned about them from an advisor; another 29 percent found out from a faculty or staff member. Yet 56 percent of students who needed help—and never got it—said they didn’t know where to go.
Davis knows maintaining student awareness can be difficult. Her team speaks to students regularly, handing out contact and service information. She tells them to take a picture of it and save the information.
“Part of the challenge is that students don’t know they need us until they need us,” Davis says. “Unfortunately, they may not remember our information when that time comes.”
Davis says they’re working diligently to overcome that barrier, but it’s not the only one students face in reaching the support services they need to succeed in college.
PPI’s report also found that 36 percent of students who needed help but didn’t get it said they assumed services on campus cost money—money they didn’t have.
Davis says money is tight for many college students but is a daily struggle for some, especially those who may not fully understand the true costs of college life.
“Some students thought they could cover all the expenses, but arrive on campus and find out they can’t,” she says. “That has a ripple effect on their lives.”
It can also lead to perhaps one of the biggest barriers students in need face: stigma.
“Forty-two percent of the students who didn’t get help said they were too embarrassed to ask,” she says. “The stigma around these challenges is very real for our students, particularly students of color.”
To reduce that stigma, Davis’ team works to normalize their services, such as Paw’s Pantry. The store serves as an outreach to students who face food insecurity. They revamped the location to make it more like an on-campus grocery store and opened it to all IUPUI students with a Crimson Card, regardless of need.
“We don’t want students to feel like outsiders,” she says. “Some people worried that opening the pantry to all students would increase usage for those who didn’t need the help. That doesn’t matter to me. I think the students who come to the pantry need the food.”
Addressing the need is what matters most to Davis and her team. That includes helping students who need a stable place to call home.
PPI’s report found the students most likely to be in emergency housing situations and facing homelessness were also those who had the highest preference to live off-campus and on their own. Davis says they are working with CHIP and other community and campus partners to explore the idea of temporary host homes for students waiting on off-campus housing or those who are facing eviction.
Beyond these basic needs, PPI’s data highlights another area of concern on campus: mental health. About 1 in 5 students reported they had an unmet need for mental health care.
In 2018, IUPUI’s Counseling and Psychological Services—known as CAPS—saw a 13 percent increase in the number of students walking through their doors, a trend happening on college campuses nationwide.
CAPS Director Julie Lash admits waits were longer when the report was completed but says they’ve expanded their staff and the number of weekly group counseling options to accommodate the growing demand.
“Group is not a lesser approach,” Lash insists. “When we think about counseling, we often think about sitting on the couch with a therapist. Group counseling is much more effective in many cases. We want students to be open to our suggestions because they’re based on what we know works for different students.”
If a student’s needs are beyond the scope of what CAPS can manage, they offer a referral service to counselors in Indianapolis, many of whom are near campus. CAPS will consider financial concerns and other possible barriers when making these referrals.
Davis’ team also offers up additional near-by services for students through helpmeroar.iupui.edu. The site provides resources within five miles of campus and information on what’s available here on campus.
“Students expect to access these services on campus,” she says. “If they don’t know where to go, contact us. We are social service support on campus for your basic student needs. We need students to know we’re here for them if they need our help.”