Addressing Mental Health On The Yard

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Rwenshaun Miller

To many, college is described as the best time of your life. The freedom. The parties. The friends. And let’s not forget the abundance of knowledge that one obtains. The college experience helps mold who you are as a person because it is a time to learn.

I learned that despite expectations from others, I would have to discover my own likes and dislikes to plan my future accordingly.

I learned that some of my aspirations and expectations just weren’t meant to be.

I learned that failing a class does not mean that I am dumb and it is not the end of the world.

I learned how stress affects my body in both good ways and bad.

A significant item I learned during my sophomore year was that my inability to sleep and the voices that I would hear as I sat in my dorm room were symptoms of the mental health diagnosis known as Bipolar II disorder. This lesson was not easily learned—it came as a result of me being forced to the hospital by my family because they knew I wasn’t the Shaun that they were used to.

Learning, acknowledging, and accepting this fact about myself was not an easy task. I had heard the term ‘bipolar’ before, as people including myself would use it loosely to describe the weather or a person with mood swings, but I did not know about the actual illness. It was also a term that I had associated with “crazy.”

But now that I had an actual diagnosis, I did not want others to know or label me as crazy. I had to constantly remind myself that “Nothing is wrong with me.”

The stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness in the black community is a proven silent killer. While rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide to continue to rise, individuals continue to suffer in silence.

This stigma doesn’t stop at the threshold of the college campus, as many students are not mentally healthy and do not know how to address their issues accordingly. According to a 2013 report by Institute of Education Sciences, there are over 300,000 students in enrolled at HBCUs. And, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, reports indicate that 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in a given year. Using some rough math, this means that approximately 60,000 students that attend a HBCU may suffer from a mental illness. And that’s not even accounting for the demographic variations, which indicate that Black males from ages 20 to 24 have the highest rates of suicide in the Black population, averaging 18.18 per 100,000.

Unfortunately, this number may even be significantly higher because some may choose not to acknowledge and tend to their mental health needs.

Similar to my college experience, many black students may not understand what they are experiencing mentally.

I knew that I was sad for a few days and I didn’t want to be bothered but I did not know that chronic sadness and withdrawal are symptoms of depression.

I knew that I had trouble paying attention in class and focusing on assignments but I did not know that professional help could assist me with learning how to improve this behavior.

I knew that it is common to drink alcohol or use drugs in college but I did not know that there could be an underlying issue contributing to abusing substances.

The black community, especially among college students, rarely addresses these issues as an illness that needs professional treatment. Ignorance, Fear, ego, and pride prevent us from acknowledging the problem, asking for help, and following through with treatment.

“This doesn’t happen to us”

“I’m not crazy”

“I don’t need any help, I can control this”

“Seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness”

On campuses, students utilize an array of resources including tutors, libraries, gyms, and other programs but fail to make use of counseling services.

I was that student. Before hospitalization, I didn’t even know where the Counseling and Wellness office was located. So of course I didn’t know the service was available. It is not a marketable as the student rec center or dining hall but it should in fact serve as a vital role to assist in a student’s success.

No, it is not a place for “crazy” people. It is a place to assist you in being as healthy as possible by treating a muscle that we often take for granted: our brain. This includes but is not limited to therapy, medication management, and psychological testing.

Each student on every HBCU campus must recognize the importance of this part of his or her life and utilize these resources. These barriers must be broken in order to help students thrive in an arena that is fun, exciting, but also very stressful. In most cases, portions of these services are covered by your tuition.

So ask yourself: Why not use them?

Rwenshaun Miller is a Mental Health Awareness Advocate, Founder of Eustress Inc., and Blogger at Monumental Monomental. In 2007, Rwenshaun was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Severe with Psychotic Features. As a Black male, he wants to help break the stigma surrounding mental illness and promote wellness for everyone.

“The Lavender Fund”: Howard University Makes A Statement

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Steve D. Mobley

On August 29, 2015, Howard University made a statement. With the support of the trustee board, its graduate trustee Christopher N. Cross released a letter to Howard’s alumni and current students that they were embarking upon a new frontier to engage their campus community in a brand new endeavor. What makes this new initiative special? This year Howard University will host their first officially recognized Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally (LGBTA) fundraiser amongst their nationally recognized homecoming events. The event, “The Inaugural LGBTA Renaissance Reception of Howard University,” will occur during the 2015 Homecoming Celebration.

Numerous events are held during Howard’s Homecoming, including a fashion show, football game, and step show. During the course of a week, the campus welcomes over 100,000 alumni and friends of the university. However, their new LGBT event marks a significant turn for Howard and HBCU history. Howard is consciously placing their LGBT constituents on a national platform and courageously standing in the face of homophobia. They are attempting to engage their LGBT students and alumni so that a culture of inclusion can be established and emulated in other HBCU communities.

As a Howard alum who is part of the LGBT community, Howard’s groundbreaking stance on LGBT student and alumni engagement is extremely personal to me. At an early age I decided that I was going to attend an HBCU. While my peers looked to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, I viewed our country’s HBCUs with the same reverence and ultimately decided to attend Howard University. As I reflect on my choice, I celebrate my ten-year college reunion, and as Howard approaches its 150th anniversary I am truly in awe. I never thought that this day would come. My alma mater is finally validating the oppressed identities of LGBT students who are present on their campus and recognizing their LGBT students and alumni in a huge way. Unfortunately, across the country LGBT HBCU students often live “invisible lives.” These students do not feel as if they truly are a part of their campus communities.

My time at Howard was extremely positive and played a huge role in shaping my adult development. During my undergraduate career, I was highly involved, nurtured by faculty, and enjoyed immense popularity. However, there were blatant overt and covert messages that were conveyed to me by the campus administration and my peers regarding my sexuality that forced me to hide the fact that I was gay, and in essence, I shut off an entire part of my identity.

Howard was “home,” but as much as I loved it I always wondered, did it truly love me back? For the first time, I am finally hopeful that Howard does love me and those who are like me—alumni who are unafraid to live and walk in their own truths, those current students who may be questioning their place, and even perspective students who may be uncertain if an HBCU is the “right” place for them as they reconcile their sexuality.

Howard has taken a brave stand. Their inaugural LGBTA fundraiser will use the funds raised to establish “The Lavender Fund.” The Lavender Fund will establish programs and work to promote a campus culture that directly confronts the venomous homophobia that divides Black communities on Howard’s campus and at other HBCUs. Research has shown that there is a need to improve the campus climates for LGBT students so that they will one day engage and give back to their alma maters. If this is accomplished, HBCU LGBT alumni can be engaged to forge spaces of inclusion and acceptance for all students. Engagement of all is critical.

Trustee Cross concluded his letter by stating, “It is time to tear away the masks and address the issues that have been festering in order to alleviate the isolation, bullying and depression among members of our LGBT community.” These words give me hope that Howard and other HBCUs shall welcome HBCU LGBT communities, so that we can work towards making HBCUs reciprocal educational spaces that recognize and affirm each and every student that seeks to walk their hallowed grounds.

The invitation to the Howard University “Lavender Fund” reception and giving information can be found here.

Steve D. Mobley, Jr. recently earned his Ph.D from the University of Maryland with a focus in Educational Policy & Leadership. He is an affiliate with the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions and engages in research that highlights contemporary HBCU topics that include race, class, and sexuality.

A Summer Intern Story: Lessons, Love, and Learning

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Vanessa Peña

I first met Marybeth Gasman at a guest lecture at Beloit College in February 2014, where I first heard the term “Minority Serving Institutions.” I was amazed to learn there were institutions that catered specifically to minority students, especially since I was attending a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). As a result, I instantly became interested in MSIs. After hearing her lecture, I approached her to introduce myself and told her about my summer job in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan—the same area where she had grown up. There was something radiant about her and I just wanted to keep talking to her. However, anyone who knows Marybeth knows how everyone gravitates towards her, so our conversation was brief since there were many other students waiting in line to talk to her.

As a McNair Scholar at Beloit College, I was in touch with a former McNair Scholar, Daniel Corral, who had previously interned at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI). When I learned he was going to intern with Marybeth, I was very excited for him because I had met her and knew he would thrive at the Center, especially with his involvement on campus. His opportunity got me thinking. I began to talk to my McNair Director, Dr. Nicole Truesdell and McNair Mentor, Dr. William (Bill) New, about my interest in working with Marybeth for my second summer in the program. Luckily, I had great people at Beloit who connected me with Marybeth, which led to my opportunity to intern at the Center this summer.

I arrived in Philadelphia this past June to start my eight-week internship. I jumped right in and started working on the Center’s weekly Monday Morning MSI Line Up and had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the Center’s inaugural Enriching Learning, Enhancing Visibility, and Training Educators (ELEVATE) program. Working at the Center while ELEVATE took place was the highlight of my internship, as it allowed me to meet early-career scholars working at MSIs from all over the nation. Preparing for the event, meeting the scholars, and being able to hear their personal experiences about working at an MSI was amazing since I got a first-hand experience on much of the research I was doing for the Center. Along with ELEVATE, this internship helped me develop my professional career by teaching me about philanthropy, creating budgets and grants, and investigating what was happening on MSI campuses. I would not have been able to do this without the mentorship of everyone at the Center.

The love and support I received from the Center was truly a blessing. My time there was inspiring. I worked with such amazing, brilliant, and loving people who were always so welcoming and I quickly felt part of the family. Along with learning about MSIs came life lessons. I learned so much about myself and how to work in ways to support minorities in higher education in order for them to thrive—this is something that I plan to bring back to my PWI campus. This year, I will be taking a class at Beloit College titled “Investigating Minority Serving Institutions,” which I am super thrilled about because my internship at the Center just left me wanting to learn more about MSIs. Therefore, although I am no longer working at the Center, my class will remind of all the wonderful people who greatly impacted my life while working there this summer.

I would like to thank everyone at the Center, everyone I met from ELEVATE, and everyone that made this internship possible. After this school year, I look forward to applying for and attending graduate school for a PhD in Higher Education in order to continue learning about minorities in higher education and helping those like myself obtain their dreams and aspirations.

Vanessa Peña is a rising senior who is double majoring in Education and Sociology at Beloit College, a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois and is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar.