Racism, mental health event provides safe space

Counselor Brandon Foster attended the racism and mental health event hosted by the Counseling Center in the Kramer Lounge of the Batten Student Center.

McKenna Howenstine|Marlin Chronicle

On Feb. 23, the Office of Student Health hosted the event “How Racism Affects Mental Health” in the Kramer Lounge.

April Christman, director of Student Health, explained that this annual event is intended to promote awareness during African-American History Month. “We certainly wanted to do something relevant to racial identity and Black History Month,” Christman said. The event, which lasted two hours, encouraged participants to paint while discussing their feelings and experiences with racism.

The event was headed by Christman and her colleague, Brandon Foster. For the set-up, they handed out facts about the physical and mental toll of racism and displayed flyers on tables so that participants could learn and discuss while they painted on the variety of canvases provided by Student Health Services. 

One handout described how racism affects health overall, such as by causing more stress, worse sleep and increased risks for cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressures. The other explained how racism increased mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, emotional distress and PTSD. In addition, to help with the emotions associated with this difficult topic, Grace, a therapy dog, mingled throughout the event.

Foster explained how Counseling Services worked to create a safe space for this event to talk about heavy topics. “In society today, it may be hard to have these conversations. People might be defensive or vulnerable and may not be able to have those conversations easily,” Foster said.

Sophomore Opeyemi Kareem-Ojo attended the event.

McKenna Howenstine|Marlin Chronicle

Sophomore Anika Valentine was one of the many participants at the event and said she enjoyed the painting aspect. Painting “really helps with your mental health,” Valentine said. “It’s very fun and relaxing and everyone gets to get together and talk.”

Many students came in groups with their friends to paint for the event, although Valentine said she initially did not understand the correlation between the topic and painting.

“The painting was more of an art therapy influence where sometimes when we are doing an activity, we’re more likely to be reflective,” Christman said. She described the painting as a vital part of the event. The addition of painting was an aid to initiate conversation about the difficult topic of racism among students. 

A poll from Gallup indicates that one in five Black students face discrimination, therefore, events such as these are relevant for college students. This number is higher at private for-profit institutions, where one in three students face frequent or occasional discrimination. According to Gallup, many private for-profit schools are Predominately White Institutions (PWIs), where there are more white students than students from racial minority backgrounds.

Valentine pointed out that the issue is often not taken seriously. “Racism is definitely a problem on college campuses, like everywhere, because people joke about it,” Valentine said. 

Sophomore Jasmine Gorney talked about the importance of events like this.

“It’s nice to hear other people’s experience and also just talk about it with people you know,” Gorney said. She said the space helped her to discuss different topics and experiences that she had encountered and share them with her friend, sophomore Opeyemi Kareem-Ojo.

Christman said she was unsure whether there are events like this on other college campuses. She said racism is a hard topic to handle, but a necessary discussion to have. “I don’t know that just because the topic is uncomfortable, that it’s something that we should avoid,” Christman said. 

Students immersed themselves in painting during the event.

McKenna Howenstine|Marlin Chronicle

Christman and Foster said they wanted to work to broaden the understanding of the emotional destruction that discrimination causes to build understanding and acceptance.

Gorney and Kareem-Ojo said events like these lost out on their potential by not being properly broadcasted or supported.

“I feel like there’s a lot of disconnect between people who aren’t willing to really learn about [Black people],” Kareem-Ojo said. 

However, students voiced that creating a safe space for conversation about these heavy topics can be a good starting point. Kareem-Ojo and Gorney both said that events like this one show the school’s willingness to build understanding against discrimination.

Counseling services will hold several other recognition events. In light of Women’s History Month, the next one will be “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” on March 8. This event will help to raise awareness of the discrimination women face, as well as provide an opportunity to donate high-heels.

By Gabrielle Barnett