On Tuesday, Sept. 10, Active Minds hosted the first installment of the Silver Ribbon Luncheon Series, a project that aims to broaden campus-wide discussions about mental health issues. The group will host thirteen different luncheons on Tuesdays throughout the semester; each will focus on a different stigma or aspect of mental health. The luncheons are free and open to all students and faculty.
Active Minds Co-Presidents Aletta Brady ’15, Caroline Catlin ’15, and Miranda Orbach ’15 developed the new series. In addition to these formal events, the club gets together for a dinner every Monday from 7-8 p.m. in the Usdan Marketplace to talk about the current state of mental health discussion at the University. Orbach explained the reasoning behind the luncheon series.
“The mission of Active Minds is to change the conversation about mental illness on college campuses and reduce stigma,” Orbach said. “[The luncheons] provide students with facts, some experts on the subject, and spark conversation about mental health and mental illness on campus.”
The weekly events will offer a free lunch to the first 30 attendees at each luncheon and will address a wide range of topics, from obsessive-compulsive disorder to psychological content in literature. The Sept. 17 session is scheduled to focus on weight stigma; next week’s, held on Sept. 24, will cover topics in schizophrenia. A mental health professional will begin each installment with a short lecture and then open the conversation up to questions and discussion.
Brady explained how the speakers and topics were selected.
“I emailed people that I knew and asked them to recommend people that they thought would be interesting and engaging speakers,” Brady said. “It’s people who are knowledgeable about their subject and issues that are important and related to mental health. We had an amazing response, and we had more [speakers] sign up than I could put in.”
Active Minds is a chapter of a national organization that was started by University of Pennsylvania graduate Alison Lamon. Created after Lamon’s brother’s suicide, the organization aims to foster healthy and supportive conversation about mental illness. The University’s chapter was started by Jenn Pollan ’13 in 2011 and has since held awareness campaigns as well as programming for students returning from medical leave.
For the luncheon series, Active Minds switched from a presentation-based event style to a more open, discussion-oriented format. Catlin explained the motivation behind this change in structure.
“In past events, at times, there has been some negative feedback, and I think the issue with that was that there wasn’t any space to discuss it and discuss people’s different opinions on how the presentation was done and what it meant to them,” Catlin said. “Our goal is to initiate conversation among the student body, and having a platform for people to disagree with each other in order to move forward and have a new understanding is really important.”
The first Silver Ribbon Luncheon featured the University’s Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator Alysha Warren. She discussed new sexual violence prevention and response programs on campus. More than 40 students were in attendance for the lecture and the following discussion.
“The goal of the talk was to provide the campus community with information about campus and community resources related to sexual violence, to highlight our updated and expanded policies about sexual misconduct, to highlight ways that students can get involved, and to introduce new campus initiatives slated to start this year,” Warren wrote in an email to The Argus.
Warren added that the luncheon elicited a very positive student response.
“It felt like the beginning of a dynamic and engaging discussion of sexual violence prevention at Wes,” she wrote. “I’m looking forward to working with students to translate this energy into action and an ongoing commitment to sexual prevention.”
Based on the success of the first event, the club co-presidents are hoping to continue the Silver Ribbon Luncheon Series into next semester. If the events continue to attract students and be effective in encouraging discussion about mental health, Active Minds hopes to continue them indefinitely.
“I think that this is a large enough issue that we can have a different speaker every week for multiple years,” Brady said. “One in four students is struggling with a diagnosable mental illness, and that’s not something to see lightly.”
Brady added that this semester’s slate of speakers only begins to address the myriad issues in mental health that are up for discussion.
“I’d like to see a lecture on how mental health is treated differently for traditionally marginalized communities,” she said. “There are also a lot of interesting topics on how mental illness is so often perceived negatively, but it’s also a blessing, and a lot of really great art and inspiration comes when people are not what is traditionally considered stable.”