Dept. of Ed awards grant to 'equity'-based mental health program

The University of Colorado Denver recently secured a $3.15 million dollar grant for Project ASPIRE, an ‘equity-focused mental health’ program.

One of the project’s principal researchers has previously called for schools to have ‘fewer cops and more mental health professionals.’

The Biden administration’s push to advance DEI initiatives in medical care continues with a school in Colorado being among the latest recipients to receive federal funding for the cause.

The Department of Education recently awarded the University of Colorado Denver a $3.15 million grant for an “equity-focused mental health” program.

Project ASPIRE, which stands for Advancing School Psychology Innovative Training to Recruit Equity-Focused Practitioners, is designed to “reduce barriers to becoming a school psychologist, with an emphasis on equity-focused mental health services for early childhood, bilingual, and economically disadvantaged populations.”

The program, made possible by a Department of Education Mental Health Demonstration Grant, will fund three groups of students who are “passionate about equity-focused mental health” and are enrolled in the School Psychology doctoral program.

Such programs are rooted in the idea that “marginalized” minority groups do not have access to mental healthcare, and therefore must receive additional support.

“For marginalized communities, mental health is an important issue that can often go unaddressed,” says Active Minds, a mental healthcare non-profit. 

“Black, Indigenous, and People of color (BIPOC) and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) young adults experience higher rates of negative physical and mental health outcomes due to social, economic, and environmental inequities that are rooted in systemic oppression and discrimination,” it adds. ”This can lead to feeling like there is no adequate support system available to them, and therefore they can’t properly take care of their mental health.”

[RELATED: College counselors underresourced as schools prioritize DEI and gender-affirming care]

“Being a person of color in this field can be very triggering. So it’s really hard to kind of overcome your own triggers while trying to figure out how to help others, and support others,” JK Gregory, a graduate student enrolled in the program, told a local news affiliate. “Hopefully, this program is able to reach out to other people who are people of color and feel the same passion.”

Rachel Stein and Bryn Harris, both professors in the School of Education and Human Development, will serve as the program’s principal researchers.

Stein has previously proposed mental healthcare workers as an alternative to law enforcement officers in schools. In a 2020 post on Twitter, she said, “schools need fewer cops and more mental health professionals,” while promoting an ACLU article that suggested “there is no evidence that increased police presence in schools improves school safety.”

In addition to teaching, Harris has an extensive body of published research in the field of psychology, according to the university website. Some of her publications include “A call to action for school psychology to address COVID-19 health disparities and advance social justice” and “Influences of student race/ethnicity and gender on autism special education classification considerations.”

[RELATED: WATCH: Florida student denied access to campus mental health resources for being white]

CU Denver is not the only school to receive a grant for such a project. 

Earlier this year, Northern Illinois University was awarded over $700,000 for a similar program that will include trainings and workshops with a “focus on inclusivity with regard to race, ethnicity, culture, language, disability, and for students who identify as LGBTQI+, and that prepare school counselors to create culturally and linguistically inclusive and identity-safe environments for students when providing services.”

CU Denver has been contacted for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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