During their last mass meeting of the year, the Black Student Union allotted time for a mental health dialogue to address the issue within the African-American community both on campus and at large. Discussion at the event focused on the lack of minority clinicians in Counseling and Psychological Services, as well as lack of knowledge about mental health resources and the effects of attending a predominantly white institution like the University of Michigan.

LSA junior Janice Allen and LSA senior Darian Lasenby moderated the event, which almost 50 students attended. Allen said hosting a mental health dialogue was imperative to getting members of the Black community on campus to talk about the stigmas that they face.

“It’s seen as something that is an issue, but not a serious issue that you need to seek help for,” she said. “You put it off to the side or it’s something that you put in the dark.”

LSA sophomore Shavon Edwards said she is an active member of the BSU and found the topics of the meeting important, especially addressing mental health and illness concerns raised by her peers.

“I’m a part of the community, so I know from experience that these issues are very much valid and true,” she said. “It’s just a simple lack of not knowing and the struggles we face as a community contributes to the fact that we don’t know the signs of mental illness.”

These struggles, Edwards said, are what she and others in her community have to face every day.

“The struggles that we face day to day in being at a PWI (Predominately White Institution), being around people that don’t really understand where we’re coming from,” she said. “The struggles we face in always having to overcompensate for the things that we do because of how society is and how it portrays the Black community.”

Allen said one of the primary reasons for having a mental health dialogue was to reassure others in the organization that there is support network that will exist for them.

“People can know and understand that this is something important that you need to talk about, that you need to seek help for, that this is a real issue, that people care about you, that they love you,” she said. “In our community we don’t take care of ourselves health-wise, so I think it’s important to have these meetings so that people know that you need to take care of your health.”

LSA junior Brianna Jenkins said she found the event to be a good way of spreading community awareness and solidarity. Mental health dialogues, like this one, are an opportunity for people to empathize and relate to one another on an often ignored topic, she said.  

“It’s not talked about enough and people suffer in silence and it’s not OK to just sit there,” Jenkins said.

LSA sophomore Deashia Johnson said minorities are often silent about mental health issues they may face because mental health is often understood as a problem for white people. She said this cultural rejection makes it difficult for others to recognize symptoms of mental health issues they may be experiencing.

“There is that complete stigma that we have to be better than everybody else or we aren’t supposed to go through feelings like this,” she said. “Growing up, your parents would tell you that if it’s something that you feel like you’re going through, that’s not really what it is, and it’s just looked at as an excuse. At the same time, people don’t realize, even within themselves, to what extent they’re actually going through these issues until it’s too late for them to do something about it.”

Allen said she hoped students who attended the event understood mental health is a serious issue and a prevailing student concern on campus, with resources available for those who need them.

“This is a real issue, and you really need to be proactive about your mental health,” she said. “There are resources on campus and outside of campus that can really, really help you. The help is there — you just need to get it and need to realize that it’s important for you to seek out those resources.”

Kinesiology senior Capri’Nara Kendall, speaker of the Black Student Union, said she does not believe the University is doing enough to support students with mental illnesses, adding that attending a predominantly white institution contributes to mental health concerns among minority students, especially Black students.

“I’m the only Black woman in all of my classes, except for one, and that’s an African American Studies class,” she said. “When you go in class and you’re the only representative of your race and your gender as they intersect, it’s hard because now I deal with the Black people stereotype of being extremely lazy and piss poor, but I also deal with the stereotype of being a woman. So I walk in and I’m already mentally not there.”

When students are away from their comfort zone, Kendall said, they don’t know how to handle Predominately White Institution environments like that of the University.

“We have people here who have never seen Black people before and never seen Latino people before or never had to engage with them unless their parents were overseeing them,” she said. “That has a lot to do with our experience as students and it’s not an easy one.”

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