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SGA hosts town hall, addresses mental health within identities on campus

SGA’s first town hall of the year tackled mental health in the perspective of different identities on campus

October 1, 2019

Student Government Association hosted its first town hall of the year Monday, Sept. 30. The town hall was in collaboration with Health, Counseling and Student Wellness (HCSW) with the topic being “a talk on mental health.”

The town hall began with an introduction by Brynn Cahal, chair of SGA’s student rights committee, followed by Amy Clark, director of HCSW.

SGA President Jarett Lopez said when discussing possible topics, mental health rose to the top. Lopez has had friends pass away due to their mental illness and said it is a constant topic on campus. 

“You see it constantly here at the university, students talk about how bad their mental health is,” Lopez said. “We thought it would be really good to do a dialogue about mental health so that we can address it and start dissolving that stigma.” 

Students and faculty sat at tables labeled different identities such as “parents attending college,” “student within LGBTQ+ community” and “post-military students” attendees were asked to sit at a table with an identity that did not match their own. 

Attendees were then asked to have a 30 to 40 minute discussion with their table about different topics  in the perspective of the identity at their table. Each table included a facilitator which included counselors, interns and staff of the Scripps Howard Center for Student Engagement.

Kat Lark, freshman computer information technology major, who sat at the “post-military” table said she learned about the event from a friend and was interested in learning more about mental health and different perspectives.

Lark said her table discussed the unique challenges post-military students might face and possible solutions. One of the challenges discussed, according to Lark, was that these students may face the same experiences freshman do but differ greatly in age—making introductory classes like University 101 unappealing to them. 

While Lark did find the town hall effective in teaching her about HCSW services, she mentioned the assumptions being made in regards to other identities. Lark said people of the various identities should have been a part of the conversations. 

“Students of non-color talking about students of color … they can only make assumptions and you can’t really do much with assumptions because it could offend other people and just might not be true at all,” Lark said. 

Cahal, who was also the organizer of the event, said she hoped making attendees think from different perspectives would make the issue easier to talk about as well as make them think more about others.

“In a way, it was hypothetical; it wasn’t about their personal struggles. It makes the conversation a little easier to have, which I think, kind of, warms people up to having a conversation about mental health and about themselves later on,” Cahal said.

While there was some assuming involved, Cahal said the point of the exercise wasn’t to speak for the entire group but rather a change of perspective. 

“The point of the town wasn’t to make those assumptions and say, ‘oh, well, this one scenario that I thought of works for this entire group of people’, it was more like an exercise in putting yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Cahal said.    

Both Cahal and Lopez said they were very pleased with the turn-out.

SGA’s next town hall will be in the spring. The topic is still to be determined, but Lopez had some ideas in mind, such as pension or the political environment—since it’s an election year. 

SGA has future events planned for this semester. The next event will be Oct. 21 and will be a “safety walk” in which according to Lopez, “we’ll be dividing into groups and going around campus and finding issues that might come up that could affect our students, faculty and staff safety.” 

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