Campus resources distinguished by disclosure

by Stephanie Purifoy / Beacon Correspondent • October 12, 2017

Emerson provides two kinds of support to students: private and confidential resources.

Emerson’s confidential support systems are bound by federal and Massachusetts state law to keep any information shared with them private unless an individual gives permission to share them or is a danger to themselves or others.

In comparison, private support systems are not bound by these laws and technically can disclose any information shared with them to superiors, according to Erik Muurisepp, director of housing and residence life.

 “We only share information with people who need to know. We do respect people’s privacies but do have processes in place that require us to take certain actions,” he said.

The four confidential resources on campus are Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services, the Center for Health and Wellness, Violence Prevention and Response, and the Center for Spiritual Life, according to the office of Title IX resources page. All other resources—like the Emerson College Police Department, Resident Assistants and Resident Directors—are private.

ECAPS, the Center for Health and Wellness, and VPR all act on Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act guidelines, which state that a school must have written consent from students over the age of 18 before releasing any information from their educational record. For underage students, the school must have written consent from a parent or guardian. Health records are treated as educational records and fall under FERPA.

“We definitely have seen over the years that there is a higher need for support for emotional and mental health issues [among college students],” said Elise Harrison, director of ECAPS. “It’s the kind of thing that is very private. There’s really no reason in general for that to be open or part of a student’s academic record.”

The Center for Spiritual Life, however, is bound by a state law to confidentiality.

For students, this means that when they go to a confidential resource, they don’t have to worry about the repercussions of their words and can focus solely on seeking help.

“I think it’s important so that students have options and can go to a mental health counselor or a physical health provider or a spiritual advisor in a spiritual capacity and have confidentiality and be able to speak freely,” Muurisepp said.

Director of Violence Prevention and Response Melanie Matson also said she believes a confidential resource for students is vital for a healthy school community so all of the focus can be on the individual and not on a bureaucratic process.

The employees of these different resources are trained to make the distinction between private and confidential to the students who seek them out.

 “Our department puts a heavy emphasis on this distinction,” said RD Michael Barcelo. “We do this so that when professionals and paraprofessionals find themselves in a situation where they need to set that boundary, they feel comfortable and knowledgeable doing so.”