Amherst College

Creating a Caring Community
Garrett Lee Smith Campus

Amherst College, a private liberal arts institution, proposes to implement Creating a Caring Community (C3), a three-year, comprehensive suicide prevention program. The overarching goal of C3 is to increase the College community capacity to respond to students in distress. Amherst seeks to foster a campus climate that promotes self-care and help-seeking, so that students access mental health support before a crisis occurs.

C3 will include gatekeeper training for staff and student leaders, such as team captains, student organization leaders, and Residential Counselors, using two evidence-based approaches, Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) and Student Support Network (SSN); expanded outreach to faculty, staff, and parents about campus mental health resources; the development of culturally competent educational activities and materials to promote self-care, well-being, and help-seeking among students; and improved coordination among campus personnel. Training and educational activities will reach at least 100 staff, 450 students, and 40 faculty in each year of the grant, with materials distributed to more than 400 staff, 165 faculty, and 1,740 students (along with the families of approximately 450 entering students) annually.

In recent years, Amherst has moved quickly and assertively to increase the socioeconomic and geographic diversity of its population of 1,794 undergraduates, recruiting significant numbers of first-generation and low-income students, as well as international students from outside North American and western Europe. These students experience a range of stressors as they encounter new academic demands and an unfamiliar residential environment. In addition, Amherst students from all backgrounds report increased levels of stress and anxiety, and increasing numbers of Amherst parents express concern for the emotional well-being of their children who are entering college.

Amherst will partner with Charles Morse, Director of Student Development and the Counseling Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, to adapt and implement SSN training at Amherst. Campus staff with training in meditation and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), with the support of the nonprofit Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, will help plan and implement prevention activities for all students. Project evaluation will be conducted by the University of Massachusetts Donohue Institute, a policy and research institute with extensive experience evaluating similar programs and activities.