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Mental health as a social justice issue to be discussed at upcoming symposium





A Symposium on Mental Health as a Social Justice Issue will be held on Sept. 26 in Ward 1. The event, which was created by the Student Honors Board, will last from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The purpose of the symposium is to bring together as many people in the AU community and the surrounding D.C. community as possible, according to Matt Waskiewicz, the president of the Student Honors Board. Various speakers, including Lindsey McDaniel, an AU honors alumna from Baltimore, Md. will speak about mental health for students, faculty and other attendees.

Specifically, McDaniel will address the long-standing health disparities and concerns that became especially prevalent following the Freddy Gray riots that occurred in the city earlier this year.

Additionally, a workshop on microaggressions will be held in the afternoon to specifically address the experience of students of color at AU.

“All of this is part of a semester long push by the Honors Board to work on mental health at AU,” Waskiewicz, a senior in School of Public Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences, said. “As an RA who has worked with students have gone through mental health issues, this is something close to my heart.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 25 percent of college students in the United States were treated for or diagnosed with a mental health condition in 2012. At the same time, 40 percent of students with a diagnosable condition did not seek help for their illness, citing stigma as the top reason for not reaching out for assistance.

Between 2010 and 2014, the Counseling Center on campus also saw a 40 percent increase in the number of individuals who used their services, The Eagle previously reported.

Waskiewicz said the planning for this event began in June when the board sat down to discuss the biggest issues on campus.

“We asked, ‘What is something a lot of people are talking about at AU? What is something that we could shed more light on?,’” Waskiewicz said. “That’s when we came up with the topic of mental health.”

From there, the Student Honors Board decided to reach out to other associations on campus including the Public Health Association and Student Government for help sponsoring the event.

“A big part of the solution is making students aware of the issues. Mental health is big; it’s not just at AU but at college campuses across the country,” Justin Morgan, a senior in CAS and a member of the Public Health Association, said. “So when Matt sent me the email about this event, I had to respond.”

Likewise, some SG members were eager to get involved, according to Mary Margaret Koch, the SG Executive Director of Mental Health Advocacy. The Undergraduate Senate also passed a resolution last fall to make mental health awareness a bigger issue, The Eagle previously reported.

“People are engaged with this issue but not always in the most effective ways,” Koch, a sophomore in SPA, said. “This is an opportunity for more people to become more knowledgeable and use that knowledge to become more engaged.”

A portion of the symposium will be dedicated to approaching mental health through a social justice lens, or looking at what we can do to address the larger inequities that exist in the country, Ben Ben Goldstein, a sophomore in CAS and the vice president of the Student Honors Board, said.

“Mental health is also an issue for low-income areas, and it’s even more neglected than it is on college campuses. It’s really something that people are comfortable dismissing,” Goldstein said. “I’m actually not well-informed in this area, but I’m looking forward to learning more.”

Ultimately, Waskiewicz hopes students that attend will become more knowledgeable on the topic and then use that knowledge to take action.

“The people dealing with this are my peers, they’re my friends, they’re the people who I see walk by the front desk every day but I don’t really know,” Waskiewicz said. “It’s not something that’s evident from just looking at a person, and that makes it all the more important that we address this issue.”

jodonohoe@theeagleonline.com