Black Students at UMD Advocate for Better Support for Their Mental Health
By Nyla Cherry
December 17, 2023
Image Credit: Photo by Nyla Cherry
Black students poured in and filled round tables in the Riggs Alumni Center Dec. 8 to stand, cry, and converse with each other about their mental health.
The Black Student Union (BSU) hosted “Are You Okay? a student-led panel on mental health” for anyone to attend and discuss mental health awareness, students’ experiences with adversities, and campus assistance.
“I’m excited for the conversation. I think a lot of people have a lot to say,” said panelist Therman Hawkins III, sophomorebusiness marketing major, as he walked past an attendee to take his seat amongst other panelists.
Dr. Fanita Tyrell, a professor from the psychology department, led the seven panelists in their discussion of a series of 12 questions. Copies of the questions were placed on every table and displayed on a screen at the front for the attendees to respond to after the panel answered.
Questions included: what mental health challenges on campus do you think are specific to the Black community and what things can administration do to support Black students more?
BSU president Mason Minus was one of the panelists and expressed his desire for the event to advocate for increased community service, engagement, and bonding.
Minus said the event had students and administrators present in an attempt to normalize mental health.
He was pleased to see almost all 10 tables filled with participants who ate Chick-Fil-A as they engaged in the panel discussion.
Students quickly shot up from their seats to express how being Black at a predominantly white institution (PWI) affects their mental health. They raised their hands and used their voices to share their stories amongst the room.
Hawkins IIIrevealed he felt as if he did not have the room to make as many mistakes as his white counterparts.
“I feel like I always have to be on my P’s and Q’s,” said Hawkins III.
Panelist Trevor Paige, juniorgeological information systems major, took a pause as his eyes fell down to his table before he looked at the audience and said being Black at a PWI is a tremendous growth experience.
Paige went to a predominantly Black high school. He said coming to a university where he is now the minority was a major culture shock.
Areana Holder, freshman computer engineering major,raised her hand to share how she felt when she received a zero for missing an assignment when she was out sick. Her speech grew louder and her pace picked up as she explained that she properly documented her illness and did not understand why her grade did not reflect such.
Dr. Ronald Zeigler, Director for the Nyumburu Cultural Center,was the first administrator to provide input as he rose up and scanned the entirety of the room to offer a response to her situation. He encouraged students to hold their professors accountable.
“Professors are not deities,” said Dr. Zeigler.
He said he walked to Holder’s table to offer encouragement and referral information to correct the wrong doing of her professor.
“That is what an administrator, faculty member, support staff person should do when a student has been subjected to this type of ‘unfair’ treatment.”
Dr. Zeigler said he feels there is a lack of willingness or understanding to seek guidance and emphasized this is not the students’ fault.
Students' body language declined when they talked about the lack of support they feel from professors. Their shoulders and heads began to drop as they recounted the tragic loss of a student that occurred earlier in their semester.
Their tones flattened as they said their professors lacked empathy. Several student speakers frowned when they shared their story and nodded their heads in agreement when they heard others.
Jody Aryee,sophomore information sciencepanelist, carefully spoke as she advocated for professors to undergo more in depth diversity training. Her point rendered several head nods and snaps from the audience.
Students pleaded for professors to be more empathetic to what they were going through.
Many students took frequent pauses in their commentary and twiddled their fingers as they struggled to find the right words to express the inadequate campus resources they were offered.
Dr. Tyrell presented a smile as she pushed to end the event on a brighter note.
“Perhaps let’s conclude on a more positive note, how do you guys cope with what you go through?”
Panelists displayed a more positive image with cheerful grins as they talked about journaling, leaning on their friends, and helping others to help themselves.
A couple of panelists’ eyes filled with tears and their voices broke as they expressed their appreciation of the event and how much of a positive impact it had on them.
Minus expressed how happy he was to have an educated conversation discussing the mental health of Black students. He gave a shout out to both the BSU and the Student Success Leadership Council saying it was a blessing to be able to work with so many student leaders.
Minus was highly appreciative at the conclusion of the panel when he said it turned out to be a great event that needed to happen.
“If you’re not talking about the issues, we can’t make strides to make a better community,” said Minus.