New Red Folder initiative to aid faculty, staff in helping distressed students

October 11, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), a unit of Penn State Student Affairs, and the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) have worked together to launch the Red Folder initiative, which is designed to provide resources and information to support faculty, staff and administrators in helping distressed students.

“The Red Folder addresses a need at Penn State for faculty and staff to have an easy-to-use and easy-to-access resource guide to help students in distress,” said Kate Staley, assistant director of community education and outreach at CAPS. “The Red Folder should ease the understandable concern faculty and staff have as to how they can best help students who are struggling. The Red Folder also serves as a reminder that in many ways, just sitting down and compassionately listening is one of the best services any of us can offer someone in distress.”

Copies of the Red Folder, a glossy red folder with dynamic graphics and helpful text, are in the process of being distributed at the department level to all faculty, staff, adjunct faculty, and graduate teaching assistants across the University Park campus. The Red Folder identifies possible signs of student distress in academic, psychological and physical domains, as well as listing safety risk indicators. Penn State’s Red Folder uses the terms "recognize, respond and refer" as an organizing construct, providing tips for recognizing distress; strategies for how best to respond, including a decision tree to aid in deciding the next best step; and resources to refer a student to as part of offering effective help. The folders are intended to be kept in a prominent place for easy access and referral.

“We believe it is crucial that students who are suffering are able to access the multitude of resources available to them through the University,” said Chelsey Wood, UPUA chair of academic affairs. “By educating the faculty on the signs of distress, they will be able to provide earlier action for the student.”  

The resources available in Penn State’s University Park Red Folder are unique to the campus, but plans are being made to grow the initiative beyond University Park. 

“Efforts are already underway to expand the Red Folder to a website version and to develop and distribute Red Folders to each Commonwealth Campus with the helpful resources tailored uniquely to each location,” said Ben Locke, senior director of CAPS. 

Developed last spring by a small team of students from UPUA and CAPS staff, the Red Folder drew from the publicly sourced red folders at several other major universities, in combination with creative thought, tailoring it to best serve Penn State students. The Red Folder initiative is one that is gaining momentum as a concrete, highly visible and helpful resource for faculty and staff at universities across the country. Penn State’s Red Folder will now serve as a template for other universities interested in developing this resource. Funding for the printing of the folders was obtained in partnership with the Graduate and Professional Student Association and UPUA.

“UPUA hopes to continue engaging faculty in meaningful ways to support students,” said Cody Heaton, UPUA president.

Last Updated October 31, 2018