Staff Spotlight - Dr. Shenay Bridges
"It’s amazing to see how committed these students are to finishing school and getting their degrees, even in the face of homelessness."
Dr. Shenay Bridges is the Assistant Dean of Community Resources at DePaul. She’s also a licensed clinical psychologist. She connects under-resourced students to a variety of programs and benefits in the university and community. She can be a lifeline for students in difficult situations. She also guides students through personal, financial and emotional challenges.
Can you tell me about a time when you were able to help an under-resourced DePaul student?
There was one student who was living with his aunt. Then she suddenly passed away. The status of the aunt’s house was thrown in flux. He was suddenly in a very unstable housing situation. Although he was trying to find housing on his own, he was sleeping on the train and outside. He had no place to go.
What ended up happening to this student?
I was able to connect him with a program called DePaul USA, which is an international organization that addresses homelessness and poverty. In Chicago, their main priority is working with DePaul University students. Together, we developed the home host program. Community members who have room in their homes allow a DePaul University student to stay with them. Then we provide case management to help them get back on their feet. This student was able to make use of an apartment that was donated to DePaul by a local church parishioner.
It’s amazing to see how committed these students are to finishing school and getting their degrees, even in the face of homelessness.
Are other students at risk of similar situations?
Some students may be in circumstances where—even if that’s not currently what they are going through—they may be one unexpected bill away from a similar situation.
Do students know where to go to find help?
That’s a challenge. These students don’t necessarily admit or publicize that they need this type of assistance. We’ve been trying to publicize the home host program so that people know this help is out there for students. We hope that the more we talk about it, the more people who interact with these students—whether it’s faculty members in classes or other staff—will know to refer students our way.
What is it like to help a homeless student find housing?
It’s amazing. I don’t know if I even have a word to describe it. You’re making a difference in a person’s life in a tangible way. As a psychologist, I didn’t doubt that I made a difference, but it was more abstract. But in this position, I feel like I can help students in a very real way and know that I helped them reach their potential.
I don’t necessarily feel like I do it all. I feel like I am a facilitator. I am just happy to know that I am a person who can connect people with the help that they need, and hopefully enable them to help someone else down the road.
Your work is very closely related to DePaul’s mission. Could you talk about that?
I feel like my position is meant to answer questions about the university’s mission. My job description is basically to help the students that our mission really emphasizes: living on the margins, people who are forgotten about, who seem invisible in a lot of ways.
It’s not necessarily to put the focus on them, but to say that you can come to me and we are going to talk about your situation. And you can leave my office with dignity and pride, and hopefully feel helped and heard. I can’t fix every situation, but at the very least they will feel like a person, and feel that their problems matter.
I don’t know if there are a lot of universities that have a position completely dedicated to helping under-resourced students in such a variety of ways. I think the fact that my position even exists at DePaul says a lot about the leadership and says a lot about how important and central the mission is to what DePaul actually does. It’s not just a mission to put on the website. It’s about living it.