Cleveland State University is looking to change how it responds to students in crisis. 

The university is set to build a co-response model thanks to more than $367,850 of federal grant funding. This means a mental health professional will respond with CSU’s police officers to some calls where a student or community member near the university is in distress.  

It’s a trend at other universities across the country as well as in the City of Cleveland. Concerns over students’ mental health have been rising since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

In fact, lots of the requests the university receives are related to such concerns, according to CSU Police Chief Beverly Pettrey. Requests could range from a parent asking for a welfare check on a student to a person experiencing harmful thoughts.

Though officers are trained in crisis intervention, “sometimes officers in a uniform can agitate that situation more than help it,” Pettrey said.

“Instead of having a police officer come knocking on that door, maybe it’s better suited for someone who could have a softer approach,” she said. 

Cleveland State officials detailed a list of goals in the grant application, including supporting more training for law enforcement officers and upping the number of calls that are met with trained behavioral health co-responders. The bulk of the funding will cover salaries of one or two clinical social workers as well as equipment they may need. 

But other details are still being worked out, including when CSU will start this work and what types of accountability assessments will be done. The federal Bureau of Justice Assistance money comes as a three-year grant, and the grant period will not begin until the university formally accepts the award. 

Officials said the first year will be for planning. It’s set to include meetings with organizations such as the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County as well as with other universities

“I just want to make sure we’re doing it right, or at least laying the groundwork to try to do it as right as we can,” said Ali Martin-Scoufield, assistant vice president for campus engagement and dean of students. 

There’s hope, officials added, to hire someone for the role by the end of the grant’s first year and have them in place as the second year begins. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to speak with a trained listener or visit 988lifeline.org for crisis chat services and more information.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.