two women sit across table from one another wearing masks, facing camera.

Mental health support for students of color

A new collaboration between the University Counseling Center (UCC) and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) means two counselors will be embedded into the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA). Natalie Wilson and Sonia Johnson both started in their new roles this fall. They will spend half their time with UCC, and half specifically dedicated to serving minoritized communities at the University of Utah.

“This new collaboration strengthens our connection with EDI offices and we look forward to increasing the accessibility of our counseling services for students of color and other under-served groups on campus as Natalie and Sonia spend time directly connecting with EDI student associations and staff,” said Lauren Weitzman, director of UCC.

headshot of Natalie Wilson

Natalie Wilson, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion embedded counselor

Wilson is a graduate of the U’s College of Social Work and former intern at the UCC. She identifies as Polynesian and worked closely with the Pacific Islander Student Association during her internship. She said she is proud to be part of increased outreach to marginalized communities at the U.

“I feel very passionate about this work and I know building these relationships one-on-one is incredibly valuable,” said Wilson. “We know students of color largely under-utilize services at the counseling center, so with half our caseloads dedicated to those students, I’m hoping Sonia and I can build that trust and make a difference in some of their lives.”

Johnson recently completed a counseling psychology program at Boston University, specializing in sports psychology. As a black woman and former student-athlete herself, she hopes to help destigmatize mental health among students of color and student-athletes.

“There is a history of distrust of practitioners among many marginalized student populations,” said Johnson. “Students report having to teach their clinician how to treat them culturally, so I think our role of understanding and respecting cultural differences is going to break down that barrier and provide a space where students can feel comfortable and safe in all of their identities at once.”

headshot of Sonia Johnson

Sonia Johnson, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion embedded counselor

CESA provides support to several student groups and associations including the Asian American Student Association, Black Student Union, Inter-Tribal Student Association, Pacific Islanders Student Association, Queer & Trans Students of Color and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan. Center leaders say having two counselors dedicated to these student populations is an important step toward ensuring their academic and personal success.

“Students of color often face a unique set of challenges as they navigate higher education,” said Tricia Sugiyama, director of CESA. “We are thrilled to have Natalie and Sonia working specifically with the students we serve so they have someone they can go to who already understands many of these challenges and can support their mental health and well-being.”

Students interested in scheduling an appointment or learning more about the process can reach out to Wilson and Johnson directly at nwilson@sa.utah.edu or Sonia.johnson@sa.utah.edu.