Matt Calkins to leave Emmons in May

Director of Counseling and Associate Director of Wellness Matt Calkins details his departure from Emmons Wellness Center at Occidental College. Monday, March 4, 2019. Flora Villalobos/The Occidental

Matt Calkins, director of counseling and associate director of wellness, will be leaving Emmons Wellness Center May 31, according to an email sent to the student body by Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Flot Feb. 22. A search committee co-chaired by Sara Semal, senior director of student wellness, and Vivian Garay Santiago, assistant dean of students and director of student success, is currently reviewing resumes and hopes to bring candidates to campus in early April for interviews, according to Semal.

The director of counseling oversees all counseling services provided by Emmons and also works one-on-one with students seeking clinical help, according to Calkins.

“My primary job is to make sure that the counseling center is able to see all of the students who come in and request mental health care and to do so in a way that is helpful and effective,” Calkins said. “I think that ten years of doing this is a long time. It’s stressful work and I really love it, but I’m ready to move on. I mean, I really enjoy being a therapist and in some ways, I think maybe I’m better at it, or it comes more naturally to me. So, I might as well kind of go and do that now, and just do that. I think I’ll be very happy doing it.”

Calkins has worked at Emmons for 11 years and graduated from Occidental in 1996. He said when he started as director of counseling, only about 8–9 percent of students used Emmons for counseling services.

“One achievement that I feel good about is the fact that today almost 30 percent of the student body, or just shy of that, uses counseling,” Calkins said. “It’s been a challenge to make sure that the staffing here and the structure of the counseling center is really accessible to everybody.”

After his last day at Emmons May 31, Calkins said he will be pursuing full-time, private clinical work with adults and teenagers in South Pasadena.

Semal said Calkins was instrumental in creating the Emmons fellowship program, which brings two postdoctoral clinicians to Emmons for a year of training, work and integrating Emmons’ services. She also said he has focused on helping students through clinical work.

“First and foremost, he’s one of the best clinicians I’ve ever met,” Semal said. “He used that clinical knowledge and experience to figure out how to meet the needs of a growing number of students with a limited amount of resources, and he’s refined that through the years.”

Senior Director of Student Wellness Sara Semal discusses Matt Calkins’ departure in Emmons Wellness Center at Occidental College. Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Flora Villalobos/The Occidental

Semal said after listening to student feedback, Emmons has also decided to replace its two postdoctoral fellowship roles with one full-time licensed therapist. Edden Agonafer and Darius Fatemi currently serve as the postdoctoral fellows. She said the search process for this new therapist will follow the same timeline as the search for the new director of counseling and there will also be opportunities for community input into that decision. According to Semal, though this staffing change will not necessarily increase clinical hours, this new permanent staff member will have to spend less time training than the post-doctoral fellows, making them more available. As a result, the new full-time staff member will be able to practice clinical hours equal to the total amount of clinical hours practiced by the two post-doctoral fellows. She said this staffing change will allow the new director to focus more on oversight of the counseling services and community outreach.

Venitia Boyce (senior), student life liaison for the Diversity and Equity Board and a member of the search committee for the new director of counseling, said at their first meeting the committee discussed important guiding points for the search.

“The first is the hope that the candidates we bring to campus for student/faculty input have demonstrated passion and experience working with intercultural identities and are able to collaborate and program around those identities. The second is their ability to utilize non-Eurocentric based modes of counseling that go beyond the short-term model of care and explores solution focused work,” Boyce said via email. “Third, the committee emphasized that the candidates are not being judged on what level of academic degrees they hold but rather looking toward a demonstration of a progressive level of responsibility within their previous employments that may bring a more intersectional lens to the work of the director.”

Boyce said these points indicate that Emmons has considered the Gender and Sexuality Equity Committee’s (GSEC) revised recommendations, which GSEC presented at a community accountability meeting Oct. 24, 2018.

Santiago said strong leadership, administrative and clinical skills, along with experience in social justice work, will be considered when reviewing candidates.

“We want someone who has a commitment to social justice issues — and not just verbally, like in practice — [someone with] an authentic commitment to serve populations that have been underserved in the past,” Santiago said.

The eight-person search committee convened the week of Feb. 17–23, according to Santiago.

Semal said the committee is currently reviewing resumes to determine with which candidates to conduct Skype interviews. The committee hopes to do on-campus interviews with about three finalists the last week of March or first week of April, according to Semal. She said the anticipated start date for the new director of counseling is June 1, which would allow them to spend the summer getting comfortable and planning for the next academic year.

“We’re expediting the process because we really want to have students part of the on-campus interview process,” Semal said. “We really want to make sure the entire community is part of the hiring process, that it’s not one person making the decision for the community. It’s the community having input into the decision that affects them.”

Santiago said she has worked with Calkins closely and appreciates the professionalism he has brought to his work at Occidental.

“I just think it’s important to honor Matt’s time here. He was an Oxy alum. He really cares about this place and he’s contributed so much. I’m going to personally miss him very much,” Santiago said. “It’s bittersweet. With change, there’s the bitter side, the part that makes you sad, but it’s also exciting to think about new directions and think about where our campus can go.”

This article was revised Mar. 24, 2019 at 6:33 p.m. to clarify that the consolidation of the two post-doctoral fellows position into one full-time position will not lead to an increase in clinical hours. The full-time staff member will have greater availability due to a decreased need for time spent in training.