Counseling Services offers more alternatives to students, BSU demand remains unmet

by Riley Fletcher and Jenna Prather

Simpson’s Counseling Services have been understaffed for the majority of the fall semester and still remains solely staffed by Director of Counseling Services, Jenny Vargas. Vargas, however, is going on maternity leave, causing Simpson to readjust their approach to counseling.

We recognize the urgent need to provide more on-campus support,” Vargas said in a campus-wide email on Feb. 14. “Unfortunately, until we are able to find new counseling team members, I remain the only available counselor on campus.”

Last semester, the college partnered with Employee and Family Resources (EFR) to provide students with additional counseling resources such as the Student Assistance Program (SAP) due to staffing issues and to help reduce wait times.

SAP is available to students and their immediate family members. SAP provides up to three counseling sessions at no cost and has a 24/7 phone line that connects those in need with a licensed mental health professional. If additional help is needed after the three free sessions, a referral may be provided. 

Through EFR, Simpson is hosting a therapist on campus once a week to fill in the gaps while Vargas is gone. The counselor will be available every Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. starting Feb. 11 and through the end of May Term.

Students and their families can access SAP by calling 800-327-4692 or downloading the Employee and Family Resources App off iTunes and GooglePlay. 

Another resource Simpson is offering is telehealth services through Murray, Wilson, & Rose Counseling. Students interested in pursuing this option can stop by the Student Development Office to fill out paperwork. Once the paperwork is completed, students will be contacted to schedule an appointment.

The Central Iowa Crisis Services’ 24/7 crisis line is another option. Students can call 855-581-8111 at any time. There is also a chat option on or text line at 855-895-9398 that is available Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Counseling Services also recommends UnityPoint Behavioral Health Urgent Care located at 1250 E. 9th St in Des Moines. UnityPoint has therapists and psychiatric medication providers on-site and is open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No appointments are required and it is a walk-in-only provider. UnityPoint Behavioral Health Urgent Care can be reached at 515-263-2632.

After last year’s Zoom bombing and the protest that followed, Simpson’s Black Student Union (BSU) had a list of demands to be met by the Simpson College administration. One demand included providing at least one counselor who is a person of color.

“That was done before I got here,” Vargas said. “But in talking with Heidi, I know it’s obviously an ongoing concern of ours because we want our counseling staff to reflect the population that’s here on campus.”

But because of the staffing issues, counseling is struggling to hire anyone, let alone more diverse applicants. Whether members of the LGBTQ+ community or person of color.

“Trying to find folks is just very, very difficult,” Vargas said. “We did have a person of color who was hired, but because of a family emergency, she had to step down.”

Counseling services have done their best to adhere to the needs of people of color but have not had a lot of interest or attendance. The availability of one free initial visit to a counselor in Des Moines, Breanne Ward, is still available, but they have not received any invoices for that.

“Last semester we were doing the students of color support group, and no one showed up to any of the sessions. So, we decided to discontinue that for this semester because it’s not being utilized,” Vargas said.

“I completely empathize with wanting a more diverse staff,” she said. “I think that’s the best way to serve folks, but there’s just not the people.”

If students have questions regarding the changes in counseling, they can contact Jenny Vargas at [email protected] or Heidi Levine at [email protected].