Shaniah Garrick

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Winthrop University’s Health and Counseling Services has lost its lone female minority counselor for the fall semester, which has impacted a number of students.

Four-year staff member Courtney Leak, a licensed clinical social worker who is African-American, has left Winthrop University in order to pursue her own private practice full-time.

“Being African-American it was more comfortable for me having an African-American therapist,” said student Shannon Barber.

Leak said, before she left, she noticed minority students began to attend counseling sessions more often, after she began doing outreach, such as attending student-organized events.

“I know my first year doing outreach and going to things and being like ‘hey, I’m one of the therapists in Crawford’ and the black students would be like ‘oh really.’ There was an increase, I think, because of that,” said Leak.

“I am also an ally of the LGBTQIA community and I wanted to make sure that students knew that as well. I also think there was an influx of those students as well.”

Dr. Gretchen Baldwin, clinical coordinator for counseling services and a licensed psychologist, said the school has hired another minority counselor in order to bring a sense of diversity to the staff.

“When we were doing our position search to fill Courtney’s vacancy, that was one of the things we were looking for. We all knew we wanted to have someone who has a voice for diversity,” said Baldwin.

“The candidate that we settled on, she brings in an LGBT perspective and in the near future she is going to be programming and doing stuff for that (community).”

There has been no significant change in student attendance for counseling sessions, according to Baldwin, however students have been assigned to new counselors.

Counseling services plans to continue to hold minority-outreach events on campus, in order to maintain contact with all students.

Baldwin said counseling services is doing its best to make sure students are comfortable in sessions with other counselors, especially those who were clients of Leak.

However, some students still expressed concerns.

“Courtney (Leak) could speak on issues of intersectionality that Gretchen, as a cisgender straight white woman can’t. While she can listen to me, there is no way for her to relate to certain things,” said Barber.

While it’s not required by human resources, counselors are encouraged to take implicit bias training for professional development and diversity is one of the issues addressed.