A group of students are bringing mental health to the forefront of the Mills psyche this semester, emphasizing the voices and experiences of students on the topic of mental health through art and creativity.
On Oct. 19, the group from the new ethnic studies class, Leadership for Social Change, hosted “The Writings on the Wall,” an evening of creativity, crafts and decompression in a Cowell conference room. The dozens of students who attended were given space to make
collages, color, draw and learn about campus resources for mental health and wellness.
Students of Leadership for Social Change are required to choose a social justice topic and create a final, capstone project centered around it. Marissa LeCount, Kayleigh McCollum, Heidi Goehring and Dana Yovel all selected mental health as their topic of focus, and joined forces to organize an event that would benefit the Mills community.
“We essentially just really wanted to reach out to the Mills community and do something that was therapeutic for the students,” Goehring said. “Art was definitely always an aspect to the project, for sure. We were originally just going to do a gallery setting, then we decided that a creative aspect with actually creating art would be something really interesting to do.”
Ashley Muñoz, the assistant director of the Center for Leadership, Equality, and Excellence at Mills, teaches the new Leadership for Social Change class, alongside Assistant Dean of Students Sabrina Kwist and Provost and Ethnic Studies Professor Dr. Chinyere Oparah.
“I think it was a really good opportunity to provide information in a very low risk environment with folks who respond well to different modalities,” Muñoz said of the project. “It definitely had an opportunity for folks to share their stories, which I think is super powerful. That in and of itself creates change.”
Other students in the class organized a series of projects throughout campus, including a series of paintings in Founders Commons to celebrate service workers at Mills, butterflies with facts about immigration posted around campus, and a viewing of a documentary on fracking.
“When folks hear ‘social change,’ they think big protests and marches essentially, and we kind of want to challenge that a little bit,” Muñoz said. “Change can look very differently and even within yourself, you can create change as one person.”
Though the initial concept of this group’s project was simply a mental health themed craft night, their interest in the creation of art related to mental health issues grew into the concept for a zine – an independently made magazine composed of artworks submitted by Mills students.
“We were really not sure what it would look like,” LeCount said. “I think we’re all really happy with the event and what came out of it.”
Both the zine and the craft night were originally planned to be unique events, but the interest generated by both projects has raised the possibility of extending them to future years.
“It was so successful that we’re hoping to do it at least once a semester,” Goehring said of the craft night. “Especially during midterms, so that people can have this place to unwind, relax [and] take a break that they wouldn’t normally take to engage different parts of their brain. It was a lot more successful than we thought it was going to be.”
The idea of a mental health zine, too, has taken on a life of its own beyond these original organizers.
“We were asked if we would be okay if someone took that idea and ran with it,” Goehring said. “I would love that, I hope that it’s something that catches on and I hope it’s something that perpetuates itself because I think it’s going to be a really valuable resource to those on campus to know there are people on campus just like them.”
The zine, entitled Brainstorm, in addition to compiling and publishing art created at the craft night, is accepting submissions from Mills community members until Nov. 20. The publication accepts prose, poetry, and all forms of visual art. For now, the group plans to keep the zine digital, turning it into a PDF and sending it out to all Mills students through the student news.
All submissions for Brainstorm can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. A full list of submission guidelines can be found here: http://bit.ly/2emY1pK