After first year as director, Cynthia Gibney looks to incorporate student 
feedback into Student Wellness Services

Gibney working with creator of “Reform Student Wellness” Instagram page

Image supplied by: Queen's University
Cynthia Gibney started at SWS in March 2020. 

Following her first year as Executive Director at Student Wellness Services (SWS), Cynthia Gibney said she’s looking to put the needs of the students first. 

Gibney assumed the role of SWS Executive Director on March 2, 2020, coming to Queen’s from Western University where she held the role of director of health and wellness for 16 years. 

In her role at Western, Gibney successfully integrated health and counselling services into one unit and installed new technologies, including an online booking system, to increase student access to care. 

Two weeks after assuming the position, Gibney was required to shift her focus from adapting to Queen’s to managing the COVID-19 pandemic when the University shut down. 

A major aspect of taking on the role at Queen’s involved installing new technologies to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and public health directives to allow students to access services remotely, according to Gibney.

Gibney cited COVID-19 as a major challenge to her first year in the role. Adapting to the new position along with adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic presented major challenges to settling into the Queen’s community.

“My philosophy is to get to know the processes as they are before you make major changes. I didn’t have time to do that because we had a change given the public health recommendations and the pandemic order. We had no choice,” Gibney said in an interview with The Journal.

“In leadership, you want to get to know people and understand where they are coming from and get their perspectives. That’s been challenging; you can’t get to know people in the same way.” 

When asked about the criticism posed toward SWS this past year through Instagram account “Reform Student Wellness,” Gibney said SWS is adapting to further support students. 

One goal SWS is pursuing includes diversifying staff. 

“We’re really focussing on meeting the needs of the students,” Gibney said. “There are services for certain marginalized groups for sure. Can we improve? Always.”

SWS currently has an LGBTQIA2S+ identifying counsellor on staff to meet the needs of LGBTQIA2S+ students. The Service also works with Lisa Doxtator, who is the cultural counsellor of Four Directions. 

Gibney also said SWS is trying to hire a Black-identifying counsellor to support BIPOC students. Though it hasn’t yet been successful in hiring a counsellor for these students, Gibney said SWS has a contract with E.L. James, a counsellor in the Kingston community, who is able to support BIPOC students.

Gibney said she’s meeting with the creator of “Reform Student Wellness” to ensure she’s able to hear concerns about student wellness directly from students. She said SWS is looking to collaborate with students to ensure their needs are met.

“I want to face these head on. I want to hear from the students,” she said. “When I do speak to a student, I take that to the practitioner and ask to reflect on this and have had good conversations coming out of it.”

Gibney said SWS has been working with the creator of the Instagram page and has also invited student leaders from the AMS and Society of Graduate and Professional Studies (SGPS), as well as Rector Sam Hiemstra, to meetings to discuss improvements to the service. She also said SWS intends to administer a survey to student leaders to keep in touch with students on a monthly basis.

“I hope they feel heard,” she said.

SWS is also in the process of creating an advisory board for students to provide feedback to the service, according to Gibney. The advisory board will consist of formalized, predetermined meetings where students will be able to share concerns with Gibney directly. 

The advisory board will likely be established closer to the end of April. Gibney is currently consulting with “Reform Student Wellness” to determine which student leaders will be included in the meetings. There will be an application system for other students who are interested in sitting on the advisory committee.

“Moving forward, we want to have a direct connection and direct communication. Instead of anonymously posting something online, students can go to [leadership] and ask for a certain issue to be brought forward to ask to be invited to a meeting,” she said. 

“I think that’s where we’re going to get the most action; hearing from students directly instead of hearing from students anonymously online.”


Mental health, Student Wellness Services, SWS

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