Bryant Ford was announced as the new director of Counseling and Psychological Services in a Feb. 25 Today@Brown announcement written by Vanessa Britto MSc’96, executive director of health and wellness. Ford, who previously served as associate dean for community life and inclusivity and associate director of the Counseling Center at Dartmouth, is set to begin his tenure Monday.
Ford’s recent appointment comes at the end of a comprehensive national search conducted by a University selection committee that included representatives from Response Services, BWell Health Promotion, University Health Services and Student Support Services, as well as administrators of the Graduate School and campus athletic programs.
Britto told The Herald that Ford was chosen for the position by virtue of his “vast amount of experience,” including his background as a “consummate mental health professional” and over 20 years of experience in college counseling. Beyond his time at Dartmouth, Ford has also overseen the wellness center at the Maryland Institute College of Art and served as president of the New England College Health Association, chair of the Mental Health Section of the American College Health Association and member of the College Coalition for Alcohol and Other Drugs, according to the announcement.
In his previous roles at Dartmouth and MICA, Ford supervised health education and student support operations, spearheaded data collection to create evidence-based mental health programs, oversaw clinical and professional staff and coordinated with community mental health providers regarding campus resources for student patients, Ford told The Herald. He added that he also led a series of education programs to help students navigate the often inaccessible tools of health insurance coverage.
As a first-generation college student, Ford said he found a passion for mental health work that he has carried with him to this day. The son of two tradespeople, Ford said that his community has long served as a source of support in his educational pursuits.
“My eye doctor was a Black person … my dentist was a Black person and my dad's attorney was a Black person,” Ford said. “It was this sense of, ‘You can really dream big’ … And so I said, ‘Gosh, I really want to be in the medical profession.’ ”
When searching for the new CAPS director, the committee sought out a candidate who not only understood the challenges and opportunities of a college environment like Brown but was also a skilled manager, administrator, communicator and passionate worker, Britto said. The search committee looked for “someone who had a vision (and) who could engage the community fully,” Britto added.
“It was important for us to identify a candidate who was experienced, forward-thinking and collaborative,” Alana Sacks, BWell associate director of response and member of the selection committee, wrote in an email to The Herald. “It was essential for us to find someone … who could balance clinically appropriate leadership with a non-pathologizing approach that embraces de-escalation tactics to meet students where they are at.”
After reviewing eight semifinalist candidates from peer institutions, the search committee found its ideal prospect in Ford, who “rose to the top in terms of all that he could offer,” Britto said.
Sacks further pointed out that in addition to his clinical, supervisory and directorial experience, Ford impressed the selection committee with his knowledge of the foremost challenges facing collegiate psychotherapy, including staffing issues, low morale and high demand. “At the end of the interview, I could see our students working really well with him and benefiting from his approach,” Sacks added.
Ford has several goals as the new CAPS director, including helping clinical staff achieve their professional objectives and meeting with as many external stakeholders as possible, including the Department of Public Safety, the Office of Residential Life and Student Accessibility Services. Ford said that he is “not really interested in making any major changes'' in the immediate future.
“First I need to understand how Brown operates and functions,” he added.
Ford also hopes to increase awareness among the student body of the full array of services offered by CAPS. He intends to partner with BWell Health Promotion to help share student resources with the community.
Sacks wrote that CAPS and BWell will also need to work closely together to “address the needs of student survivors of interpersonal harm, secondary survivors” — specifically “friends, partners and community members who are supporting those who have been harmed” — and “students navigating high-risk drug and alcohol use.”
In addition to a close partnership with BWell, Ford plans to partner with student government and mental health groups on campus to better accommodate both undergraduate and graduate student needs.
“I don’t want to forget graduate students, because I think sometimes they may … feel alienated or isolated,” Ford said. He hopes to build upon prior experience with suicide prevention training, psychoeducation and identity-specific mental health work for graduate students to implement new initiatives on campus.
Ford also said he intends to partner with faculty members to help prepare them in the event that they are approached by a student in crisis. He aims to do this through innovative education and training programs, noting that “coming out of this pandemic … gives us the opportunity to try some new things.”
Ford said he believes in the importance of having conversation related to mental health, stating that fostering dialogue can help others feel less stigmatized and concerned about accessing mental health services. “I love mental health work … and I'm excited about all of the possibilities at Brown,” he said.
“We have lots to look forward to with our new director coming on board,” Britto said. “The future is bright.”