Brookdale's DEI Mental Health Fellowship: Pioneering Equity in Monmouth County

The Brookdale Human Services Program has completed its Inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Mental Health Fellowship cohort. It is now preparing for the second cohort of this bold new initiative. In collaboration with Integrated Care Concepts and Consultation (ICCC) and their non-profit Empowerment, Diversity, Inclusion (EDI), this achievement has earned a proclamation from the New Jersey State Senate for its groundbreaking efforts to enhance diversity and equity in mental health services within Monmouth County. Leading these efforts is Director of Diversity and Inclusion Angela Kariotis, MA, Chair of Psychology Department Professor Christine Greco-Covington, Psy.D, Psychology Professor Sara Burrill, MA, Ed.M., and Professor of Psychology Nicole Jackson Walker, Ed.D, MA-LPC, LCADC, BC-TMH, BC-HSP whose collective leadership continues to drive the program’s success.

“The strength and success of the State of New Jersey and the effectiveness of our American society depend, in great measure, upon outstanding academic institutions, exemplified by Brookdale’s Human Services, which stand as a beacon of the heights to which education can aspire,” read the proclamation recognizing the importance of Brookdale’s contribution by Senator Vin Gopal and the New Jersey State Legislature. “Within all spheres, Brookdale Human Services has established a model to emulate and set a standard of excellence toward which all others might strive. The Senate of the State of NJ salutes Brookdale Community College Human Services and pays tribute to its meritorious record of accomplishments.”

“The essence of the program lies in establishing mentorships between human services students and licensed mental health practitioners,” said Kariotis. “The aim is to facilitate six mentorship pairings specifically designed to match students of color with mentors of color to support students with representation and shared relationality. White students are paired with white mentors to build capacity for leaning into their allyship. Eventually, everyone in the cohort will come together to work in-relationship as a way to sustain their mutual advocacy efforts within the field.”

The licensed professionals, characterized by students as ‘outstanding mentors,’ offered invaluable guidance throughout the fellowship. Cohort 1, consisting of six Brookdale students, regarded this experience as the most enriching learning opportunity. Their enduring relationships with ICCC practitioners have led to aspirations of interning at ICCC while pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work, with the ultimate goal of working with ICCC upon obtaining their practitioner license. ICCC actively supports their career pathway plan. Ideally, this fellowship will serve as a blueprint for other career programs at Brookdale.

Equity, as emphasized by Kariotis, is at the heart of the initiative. “It goes beyond mere accessibility to mental health services; it encompasses the cultivation of culturally competent practitioners and the creation of a workforce that mirrors the diverse communities it serves,” she said. “In a county grappling with systemic issues ranging from racism to the opioid epidemic, the imperative for equitable mental health services cannot be overstated.”

Research underscores the critical role of cultural competence in mental health care. Among clients of color, there’s a significant demand for mental health practitioners who share their racial or ethnic background—a preference that reflects the desires of white clients for trust and comfort, as noted by Soto et al. Despite this, the field of mental health care faces a pronounced issue: the severe underrepresentation of professionals of color. Only 5% of psychologists identify as Hispanic, 4% as Black, with a stark 86% identifying as white. These disparities are not isolated to psychology but are echoed across related disciplines such as social work and psychiatry, as highlighted by the APA in 2018. Given that Monmouth County alone is home to nearly 100,000 individuals of color, the necessity for a diverse and culturally attuned mental health workforce is more pressing than ever.

“The value of mentorship cannot be understated, particularly for students of color pursuing careers in White-dominated fields,” said Burrill. “In the field of mental health, we need more practitioners of diverse backgrounds and more advocates for equity in mental health service delivery. This fellowship aims to support Brookdale social work and addiction studies students in their education and career trajectories, as well as meet a meaningful need in the community about mental health and wellness.”

The program’s goals and objectives are ambitious and practical, designed to nurture future practitioners skilled in their field and dedicated to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within mental health services. The activities include private mentor-student meetings, shadowing sessions, attending seminars, and engaging in community outreach projects. By providing mentorship, training, and community engagement, students gain the necessary tools to navigate their educational and career paths effectively.

Moreover, the program’s alignment with Brookdale’s mission and college priorities underscores its significance not only within the institution but also in the wider educational sphere. By prioritizing diversity and equity, Brookdale’s Human Services Program leads the way, setting a high bar for other educational institutions aspiring to create inclusive environments that support the success of all students. This focus on inclusivity is essential for building an academic community where every student has the opportunity to thrive.

As the program moves into its second cohort, it will continue to focus on changing how mental health services work in Monmouth County. Every mentorship and community project adds to the groundwork for a future where fairness in mental health care isn’t just a wish but a reality. The awards and help the program has received show how much it’s making a difference and how dedicated it is to making sure everyone in the community is well. As the journey continues, Brookdale’s Human Services Program sticks to its mission of creating a more fair and inclusive society, one mentorship at a time.