Stephanie Nevels, a Licensed Master Social Worker, joined the clinical team of Ithaca College’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) last January.
After stints in outpatient community mental health in Philadelphia and Miami, Nevels moved to Ithaca in 2003, initially to work with Racker (formerly called Franziska Racker Centers), a community organization supporting people with disabilities. She served as a facilitator with caseworkers and foster children. The job involved collaborations with many local agencies, including the Tompkins County Department for Social Services and the Ithaca City School District. She made time to moderate community discussions on race and racism, at Ithaca’s Multicultural Resource Center as well as at Ithaca College, where, she says, “I found out that Ithaca College students are awesome.”
Currently, Nevels is CAPS’s only counselor of color. She specializes in diversity and inclusion and seeks ways to support more students of all backgrounds. One of the questions she asks herself: “How do you interface with white counselors so that they’re better prepared to serve students of color?”
Nevels earned a BA in Psychology from Duke University and a Master’s in Social Work from Boston College. Many therapists of color like Nevels receive training to serve specifically black and brown people, to provide comfort and a greater sense of understanding of the experiences of people of color. For example, Nevels explained, with her experience she can identify when a child is misdiagnosed with ADHD when they’re actually suffering from trauma.
Accessibility is a major issue in mental health for people of color. Affordable resources are often not available in neighborhoods inhabited by people of color. Even if such residents possess health insurance, their access to therapists may be hampered by a need to travel long distances. Such obstacles prevent many black and brown people from learning to prioritize their mental health; and when they enroll in schools like Ithaca College, they may fail to appreciate the resources available on campus.
There are other reasons and circumstances that explain why people of color do not focus on mental health. It is difficult to find a counselor of color. Nevels notes that 90 percent of therapists in the United States are white. Black and brown people are taught to push through life because daily struggles are expected and normalized. Then there is the stigma that portrays mental illness as shameful or useless.
It can be challenging for some white therapists to serve people of color, especially when conversations of race are brought up. “You don’t want to go to somebody who’s supposed to be there to help you and still protecting whiteness,” said Nevels. “There’s always that ‘feeling out’ that you have to do.”
As well as serving clients on a daily schedule, Nevels focuses on how communities of color interact with mental health by working with various students and groups at Ithaca College. She is the coordinator of BEING: Processing Group for ALANA Students, a campus counseling group designed to create a safe space for students who identify as African American, Latinx, Asian, Native American, or any combination of these, to process and express thoughts on experiences of being a person of color at a predominantly white institution.
Providing mental health counseling to college students is a stressful experience iself. How does Nevels handle it?
“In my free time I most enjoy singing along to Broadway or Disney soundtracks, and making my own ice creams—often simultaneously,” she writes on her Ithaca College webpage. “Never underestimate the importance of work/life balance!”
—By Chanelle Ferguson
Chanelle Ferguson, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a sophomore at Ithaca College majoring in Writing and minoring in Journalism and African Diaspora. She is a writer at IC View, Ithaca College’s alumni magazine, and a student assistant at Career Services.