Health and Counseling Services recently hired a new counselor who identifies as a person of color, prompted by last year’s Zoom bombing attack that was targeted at Gonzaga University’s Black Student Union (BSU).
The new counselor, Martal Prewitt, is a licensed marriage and family therapist who is working full time for Health and Counseling, said Kristiana Holmes, director of Health and Counseling Services, via email. Prewitt began training with Health and Counseling on Sept. 13, and recently started seeing students for counseling.
Prewitt has worked as a therapist for the past 10 years, although for the last 20 years he has worked with families and individuals to improve their mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health in the community and in academic settings, he said via email. His experiences include working with depression and anxiety, relational conflict, academic and vocational stress, psychosis, mood disorders and trauma.
Prewitt moved to Spokane from San Diego about three years ago with his wife and four sons, and he describes himself as an artist, foodie and carpenter. He also he enjoys traveling, basketball, music and introspective discussions.
“It is my desire to present a nonjudgmental space of healing where growth is possible, passion and drive can be envisioned and ignited, healthy relationships developed and restored, and wholeness experienced and expanded upon,” Prewitt said.
Holmes said she feels Prewitt will be a good fit for GU because of his desire to support students no matter their concerns, and because of his background in working with young adults.
The push for Health and Counseling to hire a counselor who identifies as a person of color was accelerated after last November, when a BSU Zoom meeting was intruded upon by someone making racist statements toward the club members.
Tere Graham, the program manager for social justice programming at the Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC) and the advisor for BSU, said the Zoom bombing exposed the need to speed up the process of getting more mental health help on campus.
When it came down to hiring someone to fill the position, there was a large pool of candidates that took weeks to narrow down. Ultimately, there was one candidate that everyone involved in the hiring process felt was the right choice, Graham said.
The hiring process was a collaborative effort among administration, the president’s office, UMEC and DICE. Eric Baldwin, assistant vice president of student well-being and healthy living, was part of the initial search process and brought in many different stakeholders to the dialogue, including students connected with BSU and DICE, Holmes said.
One goal with hiring the new counselor was to ensure they would be available year-round so that all students would have access, including graduate students and students taking summer classes, Graham said.
“I was really excited to share with the students, we have a counselor, all of the hard work that we’ve been doing over the summer, over that last spring, fall time to now offer to our students at the start of the fall semester, all of your hard work and all of your patience has paid off,” Graham said.
According to Graham, it is important to have a counselor on campus who identifies as a person of color because it matters if a counselor can relate to someone’s lived experience or not, and because representation matters for making students feel seen and valued.
Jackie Lee, the president of BSU, echoed this and said that it can be hard for students of color when they only have access to white counselors because it's difficult going to a counselor who cannot relate to any of their identities.
“After all the continual events, bias, racism, all that happening last year and all of it centered around BSU, we wanted to make sure that there was a resource for Black students here, and there was a common concern that there was not a counselor of color," Lee said. "When you’re a student of color or a person of color in general, it’s really hard to get a counselor or therapist that can never relate to you."
Haylee Pollard, vice president of BSU, also worked with Lee in advocating for hiring another full-time counselor who identifies as a person of color. Especially since GU is a predominantly white institution, it can be beneficial to have a counselor of color who can relate to what students of color on campus are experiencing, she said.
Lee and Pollard were involved in the process of getting another counselor who identifies as a person of color on campus by focusing on applying pressure to advocate for change and voicing concerns, something Lee said BSU often has to do. She also hopes Health and Counseling can hire another counselor of color because there is already a wait for students to get an appointment with Prewitt.
“Employing counselors of color [is] really important, because I know I’m positive that BSU and Black students on campus aren’t the only students of color that are going through what they’re going through in college and not having that support at a predominantly white institution,” Lee said.