Q&A: Interim Dean of College Inge-Lise Ameer

by Charlie Rafkin | 1/8/15 11:03pm

Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer is responsible for overseeing all aspects of student life — including mental health. In an interview in her Parkhurst Office, she discussed the D-plan, Dick’s House and medical leave.

If you look at the numbers, it is striking. A survey indicates that 28 percent of students seek counseling. Why is this not one of the single most important initiatives from the Dean of the College?

ILA: Oh, it is. This is why, two to three years ago, we added counseling positions, because the wait was totally unacceptable. I feel like the wait is much better now. We have a counselor on-call 24/7. For me, it’s one of the most important things that comes out of the Dean of the College area — is making sure that the area is fully staffed and supportive [of] students and also representing diverse perspectives.

I think that there’s definitely a sense that counseling has stepped up the game, but there’s also a sense that there’s still a lot of work to be done. On Improve Dartmouth this issue is listed as completed. Are there plans in place to make Dick’s House the best counseling services in the Ivy League?

ILA: I think we have one of the best counseling services. We’re always assessing. In the student deaths we’ve faced, the counselors have been right there ready to support students.

So you think that common student perception about Dick’s House counseling is a hold-over?

ILA: I’ll tell you, it’s really frustrating for me, because we’ve invested a tremendous amount of resources. We’ve got another psychologist. I just think it’s the lore a little bit.

It seems like a very mysterious process how medical leave happens. I was wondering if you could explicate the process by which a student struggling with mental health could be placed on medical leave.

ILA: There are different entry points — it could be your dean, your [Office of Pluralism and Leadership] advisor, your faculty member [or] your [undergraduate adviser]. If somebody has indicated to us that you are in crisis, we’re going to try to help you here first through counseling at Dick’s House. In conversation with the student and sometimes their families, [they] will say, “You know what, these issues are huge. You need to deal with them full time.”

So can Dick’s House move without parental or student consent?

ILA: That almost never happens. I can’t think of one that I’ve experienced. Can we legally remove [a] student? We would if there were safety issues — harm to oneself or others. That’s the bar that would have to be met. Let me just tell you — the majority of medical leaves are initiated by students in consultation with Dick’s House. We don’t want to be in the business of saying, “You’ve got to go.”

Let me ask the converse. If Dick’s House doesn’t think that medical leave is necessary, but an outside psychologist or psychiatrist does, would the College have the authority to provide a student with medical leave?

ILA: All of those things happen in consultation with Dick’s House. Let’s say you as a student have a doctor off-campus. That doctor thinks this is too much. They’ll work with the student and Dick’s house. We work with a lot of doctors who are off-campus.

There might be some students who don’t like working with those professionals, which is their prerogative. But it seems like if they wanted to obtain medical leave, they’d still have to negotiate Dick’s House.

ILA: I don’t think it’s a very difficult negotiation. If a health professional is telling us that someone needs time off, then we respect that.

I wanted to ask about confidentiality. I think that renders some students wary, because there is this link between Parkhurst and Dick’s House.

ILA: Dick’s House would not release any of that unless there was a waiver signed. Unless: harm to themselves or others. But that bar is extremely high.

This interview has been edited and condensed.