Meet Drexel's New Staff Therapist Focused on Diverse Dragons
Establishing an Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF) and a new Center for Black Culture (CBC) were some of the first measures announced by Drexel University in June 2020 to address systemic and institutional racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Since then, the CBC has opened its doors and become a hub on campus, and the University has started to heed recommendations from the task force handed down in their final report, released in September 2021.
One such recommendation from the Black Undergraduate Student Life Sub-Committee of the task force called for increased staff representation through Drexel’s Counseling Center, and as the University continues to work to meet the needs of its many diverse Dragons, the Counseling Center and the CBC now boast the support of a new staff therapist focused on the minority student population.
Robia Smith-Herman, LCSW, staff therapist and embedded BIPOC specialist for the Counseling Center and the Center for Black Culture, told DrexelNow in the following Q&A about her excitement for starting in this new role, what support she feels she can provide for students across two different campus locations, and why her goal is to be “everywhere” and to remain an approachable and constant presence.
Q: Tell me about your background and your experience since starting your new role at Drexel.
A: By training, I'm a social worker. I went to graduate school at Bryn Mawr College. And I think that is important to note just because, as a social worker, the way I learned how to do this was to look at every single person and everything that has the potential to impact them. So, are we talking their environment? Yes, but we're talking about what's in their environment, what's their home like, what's their access to grocery stores? All of that kind of stuff. And so, then to come in as the BIPOC specialist and to focus explicitly on BIPOC students and other minority students on this campus, environment is so important. Thinking about where they came from — are they coming from a different country? What is that like and what has impacted them in terms of mental health and the way that they move through the world and see the world? Are they coming from down the road (locally) and maybe experienced different stressors in their environment that other people didn't? And then also, you can't turn a blind eye to systemic racism and all the things that disproportionately affect BIPOC individuals, and that also stems from taking a really good look at their environment.
So I think, coming in as a social worker and really finding the importance of meeting someone where they're at, emotionally and spiritually, but then also laying it in, paying particularly close attention to their environment — I think works quite well with this new role here at Drexel.
… There's also a little bit of insight on my end because I've spent my entire academic life in predominantly white institutions as a mixed-race individual, and predominantly white institutions and institutions that are super rigorous and super intense academically. That just adds to the stress that is already there and is already present.
Q: Describe your approach to counseling and areas of focus. What do you feel you bring to the table in terms of counseling Drexel students?
A: To build off of the idea of being an environment-focused person, I consider myself an integrative therapist, meaning I don't just subscribe to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) or one type of intervention. I really think it's important to think about the person and what is going to make the most sense for them in terms of the support that they need. So, it's always coming from that strength-based perspective, because sometimes CBT is just not going to do it. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy isn't for everyone. Maybe doing things a little bit more expressive makes more sense. Am I explicitly an expressive therapist? No. But it's also good on my end to continuously grow and adapt and acquire new skills to be able to meet the needs of the student body. So, I consider myself like a strength-based integrative therapist with a focus on person and environment.
Q: Your role is embedded within the Center for Black Culture (CBC). How does this work in terms of your student clients, and why is it important for the CBC to support a staff therapist?
A: I have an office in the Creese Student Center and an office in the Center for Black Culture. Eventually, there will be specific stuff being offered at the CBC because of the position being embedded at the CBC.
I think it's really important to stay connected to the Counseling Center … to function as a bridge, but also to kind of put a bridge in both directions: to bridge the Counseling Center to a part of campus that it might not have been in the past, but also to enable students to maybe tiptoe into the therapeutic space and recognize that it can be a really powerful and beneficial space to exist in, and then bridge back over to the Counseling Center and maybe feel a little bit like it's more accessible. I think that's why it's important that the position is over in CBC, too.
Historically speaking, due to lots of reasons — systemic racism, concerns in terms of insurance and other issues that have impacted BIPOC individuals and minority populations —there's a significant amount of stigma connected to mental health, but also connected to health care in general. To have someone in there almost to kind of like show [we] recognize that there's stigma, but it's okay to come in and talk about whatever is important to you in a space that's not judgmental and is open and sometimes can be fun and eye-opening — I think it's important to show that it maybe isn't as scary as we think it is. Therapy and some of the messages that we've received about therapists and therapy and the process aren't necessarily true, and this can kind of open the door for something that can be an incredibly valuable resource.
Q: What specific offerings will be provided at the CBC?
A: [Offerings at the CBC] will definitely be more than the one-on-one group or individual session offerings. Workshops, events, groups — all of those are coming eventually. I think, coming into this space and being explicitly for BIPOC students, there's so much that's in my head of what I think would be really helpful based off of my perspective of the world. But it's also important for me to hear from the students, to actually see what is important to them, because I don't want there to be a mismatch. I want there to be a match where if we say, “Hey, this is what we're doing,” that students recognize that their needs are getting met, and that's exactly what we are looking for and exactly what we're wanting. So, I think there will be some collaboration to start to really understand what the students are looking for and what they need, and then move towards development and implementation. But there are things that are coming soon, like BIPOC drop-in hours, where the goal is just to have an open space. Come talk to me about, honestly, whatever is important to you and what's important to you could be anything. That you got a new dog or a cat or a fish or a lizard, or that you read an interesting article and you wanted to share it with someone or, yeah, that you're struggling with something. Then we'll build from there for sure.
… And one of my goals is to be everywhere. Which is impossible, I know, but just to be at the music performance, at a sports game so that there's that visibility, that therapy and accessing a therapist isn't a scary thing. I'm just like a normal person that just happens to be able to support you in a very specific, unique way.
Q: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about therapy and/or self-care, or the biggest inhibitors for students in seeking out mental health resources?
A: I think there's a long answer to that and there's a short answer to that. I think the short answer and the first thing that came to my mind is that one of the most common misconceptions is that in order to go to therapy, you have to be “crazy,” or there has to be something seriously going wrong. You can go to therapy for anything. You can go to therapy because you're trying to figure out if you should switch jobs or switch majors. You can go to therapy because you're in a fight with a friend and you're not sure what to do, or you need to tell your parents something and you're not sure how. Therapy is so useful for so many types of things. Sometimes it is just to talk something through to someone who is completely objective that's not a family member or friend who may have an opinion or has like a super emotional connection and is kind of wanting you to choose something or do something specific. It can be so useful. So, it's not just when you are really struggling or when something's wrong or again, when you're quote-unquote crazy. It's for literally anything.
Q: What else do you want fellow Dragons to know about you?
A: One thing that I guess I would want people to know is that I think every single one of us has value, and every single one of us has a story to tell and a story to write and a story that is unfolding. And I think the thing that is consistent in every aspect of my life — you can ask my parents, you can ask my friends — I feel like my purpose is to help you write that story and help you figure out that story. So, I try not to be intimidating or hard to approach. If you see me, come say hi to me. I want to help you kind of explore your story and figure that out for yourself.
To get in touch with Smith-Herman or to find out how to get involved with BIPOC student counseling programming through the Center for Black Culture, email email@example.com.