In her first year as a staff counselor and sexual assault advocate for Knox, Allison Schieferle Uhlenbrock has made a point to change the face of the Counseling Center with wellness events and support groups. Introducing Kognito, an online simulation tool for faculty and students who are trying to help someone in need, to campus is new way she hopes to better student health.
Normally an expensive program, Kognito is free for all schools in Illinois because of an Illinois Department of Public Health initiative. The program has three different simulation styles: normal at risk situations, and situations unique to LGBTQ and veteran students. The 30-60 minute simulations guide users through either a faculty or student conversation with the at risk student. Users are allowed to pause the simulation at any time and return later.
“I hope these videos help all members of the Knox community build upon their skills,” Uhlenbrock said. “Kognito teaches how to communicate with empathy and sensitivity. Ideally, this increases a person’s comfort level when they move into real life dialogues and helps them be cognizant of signs that someone ought to be referred to the Counseling Center.”
For example, one student simulation, “At Risk for Students,” introduces the user to a friend group. The user must then discover which friend amongst this group is at risk. Once identified, the user has a variety of ways they may approach the friend to broach the issue. Actions can be undone or the user can change tactics if the friend reacts defensively. The final step is recommending the friend seek help. The realistic conversations are meant to mimic what a real-life interaction between friends could look like.
Professor of Economics Carol Scotton went through a professor simulation on her own.
“I thought it was very helpful … It was very interesting to see what the line of response would be, so I did learn something.” She also noted that it took a while and was “intense,” and remarked that doing the simulation in a group setting might prove helpful as well.
Kognito has been ranked in Section I of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s “Best Practices Registry” and is well-rated with other groups as well. Uhlenbrock has encouraged resident life staff, the student mental health club Knox Advocacy for Awareness of Mental Illness, Greek Life, Office of Student Development and faculty members, as well as other clubs and students at large, to engage in the simulations.
Some are skeptical as to whether the service will help or hurt students, or if peer assistance is where Knox needs to focus its attention.
“I think there is a danger in creating an atmosphere of students on campus wanting to be ‘heroes,’ when it might not be their business or it might push boundaries,” sophomore Jessica Fritts said. “I think people on this campus have issues with the actual services provided, not their peers. So think this might seem very superficial.”
Recently, much attention has been drawn to an alleged paucity of counseling staff at Knox, with only three counsellors currently employed. This was a lack particularly emphasized at last spring’s Walk Out. Students making appointments often face a week or two long wait before they can find a time that works for them and a counselor. This leaves students with serious, though not urgent, problems without professional help for long periods of time.
On Monday, April 13 and Monday, April 27, at 4 p.m, Counselor Kaleena Williams will be holding “debrief” sessions to explain the simulations and their purpose in greater detail. Students and faculty can access Kognito through the Knox website or at http://goo.gl/LocFT7. It requires a brief sign up process.