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How Black Students at PWIs and HBCUs are handling their mental health while in college
January 21, 2023
Mental health and how it should be handled has been a talked about topic in America for years, especially when it comes to young adults. In 2018, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health released a report that found that about 433,000 African Americans between the ages of 18-25 struggle with major depressive episodes.
Thomas Boyd, a fifth-year student majoring in computer science, said he was told that college would be similar to high school if he did his homework and participated in clubs.
“The academic part has changed a lot. I feel like it’s a lot harder to go out, especially when you’re constantly focused on homework and me as an engineering major,” Boyd said. […] “But it’s not enough to do the homework and go to the class. You also have to spend an hour or two a day going over the course material, so you’re prepared, because at the end of the day when we go to college it is for us to get that experience.”
Making sure you split up your time between homework and other aspects of your life is important, because it can be overwhelming when you are a Black person in the STEM field. Most of the time it can feel that you need to put in double the work when you are in the minority, he said.
Lydia Bently, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, wrote the dissertation Black College Students’ Choice of STEM Major: an analysis of their perceptions and experiences in their intended STEM pathways. She talks about what are some of the reasons Black college students choose to stay or leave the STEM field and what challenges they may face.
A few of the sources Bently uses in their research state that many students of color felt that they would go unheard in the classroom and have to deal with microaggressions from, not only classmates, but faculty and staff.
When it came to Boyd’s experience with SIU’s mental health services, he said the resources offered helped him a lot.
“I started going [to therapy] around, like, right before the time of the waiting list. So I did have someone to speak to. […] she was a great lady, she helped me out. But I was paired with a lady who was not African American or someone who would have personally understood some of the struggles that I was going through, which is a huge part of therapy,” he said.
Kiley Corinthians Burns, a first-year student studying education, said, although her mom encouraged her to come to SIU because it was diverse, her first few weeks of school did not really reflect that.
“It just seemed like everyone else knew what they wanted to do, and I didn’t. And I kind of felt like I didn’t know who to talk to about, like, my interests and stuff,” she said.
She said a good amount of older people in the Black community’s views on college are that you go to college for four years; once you get to graduate, you get a good job, but it is much more than that.
“Pushing a kid through college and they themselves don’t know what they were wanting to do is a struggle itself that costs money as well. People saying ‘tough it out,’ well, you have to set that child up to be able to, because if they don’t have the financial abilities to do so and they’re in these institutions, and they’ve taken all these loans thinking that ‘oh, as soon as I get the job, I’ll be able to pay it back’. They get themselves in a deeper hole,” Burns said.
When parents focus on making sure their children go to college and only think about the potential money they could possibly make and do not consider the financial responsibility of the student, it can negatively affect that student’s mental health, she said.
While students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) like SIU may not always find help from people who share their experiences, students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) say it helps when they can talk to therapists with the same backgrounds.
Lauren Evans, a first-year pharmacy student at Xavier University Louisiana, said when it came to mental health, her family encouraged her to take care of herself.
“My mom is a therapist, so she’s always really understood the impact of mental health and really been an advocate for me. She’s actually the reason I even started therapy in the first place because she knows me,” Evans said. “My sophomore year I brought a car to get this. She was, like, ‘if you don’t sign up for therapy you’re not bringing the car the next semester.’ So she, kind of, recognizes, like, this is hard and you need to, like, reach out for the assistance that’s available.”
Evans said, when it comes to the mental health services at school, they are equally as helpful, everything from the testing services to events on campus and a certain amount of free on-campus therapy sessions.
One of the few things that has helped her mental state while being in college is the school having a high Black population, especially in the Wellness Center, Evans said.
“So I think that’s another aspect that made me more comfortable with therapy, because I knew walking in that whoever I ended up with, I was gonna relate to on that sense of that we are the same race and we are both women and I think that really helps knowing that someone understands you,” she said.
M’Kenzie Lumas-Harmon, a second-year at Spelman College, said before she came to college, she did not think about her mental health that much.
“I didn’t think it was an issue or something that I really needed to care about. But coming into college, especially being at a Black college, they really emphasize the fact that like, being at Spelman is this once-in-a-lifetime thing we’re never going to get this time back,” she said
She said, since now that she is thinking about her health a little more, she makes time to keep a detailed schedule of her day, stay involved on campus and find time to relax.
Staff reporter Janiyah Gaston can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @janiyah_reports. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois News follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.
Tags: Janiyah Gaston, Daily Egyptian, SIUC, Mental Health, Black Students, HBCUs, PWIs, CAPS, Depression, Anxiety, Thomas Boyd, Lauren Evans, Kiely Corinthians Burns, STEM, Therapy, Counseling, Therapist, Mental Health Services, M’Kenzie Lumas-Harmon, Yoga
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