RPI aims to become 'Stronger Than the Stigma'
The Active Minds “Stronger Than the Stigma” event, held on October 9 on the ‘86 Field, was a great way to showcase the various mental health resources available on campus. The field was occupied by representatives from various on- and off-campus organizations, as well as a stage for the performer, "Grammy Award-wanting" singer-songwriter Paul Pfau. The concert was organized by UPAC Concerts and the entire event was broadcasted on WRPI.
One thing that kept striking my eye were the signs across the field displaying harrowing statistics about the effects of neglecting mental health: suicide is the number two leading cause of death among college students. Because of this, I thoroughly appreciated that Active Minds held this event. Despite the stressors of school, a plethora of resources was highlighted just so that they could be taken advantage of more often.
Active Minds restarted as a club three semesters ago, with the goal of promoting mental wellness across campus. This was the second annual “Stronger Than the Stigma” event. I spoke to Brigitte Obermeyer ’20, the president of Active Minds, about her vision for the club. She told me that “Stronger Than the Stigma” is an event that aims to “pull students onto the field to showcase mental wellness initiatives and resources on- and off-campus to try to push students to open the conversation surrounding mental illness.” The choice of location seemed to be a conscious one: the openness of the field represented the openness and freedom that the organization strives to develop surrounding mental health and wellness. “We want to prove that RPI is stronger than the stigma,” said Obermeyer.
At around noon, Obermeyer introduced singer Paul Pfau, the main attraction of the event, to the stage. With his guitar and crooner voice, he serenaded the audience with his covers of Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning,” Amy Winehouse's “Valerie,” an acoustic rendition of Ginuwine’s “Pony,” and several original songs from his 2016 song collection, Great American Love Story, among others.
After his final song, Pfau spoke to me about the importance of mental health awareness. “Music is a cure, in some ways,” he said. Pfau acknowledged that mental health involves more than just manipulating your state of mind, but he felt that by being a musician and affecting people, he could be part of the path to wellness. He also talked about the charity he supports, the Music is Love Exchange, which organizes a yearly service trip to Guatemala and has been serving the same community for a decade.
Thirteen tables were arranged around the field representing various organizations and their mental health-related resources. One organization, Sole Survivors, conducts bimonthly meetings on Tuesday evenings to provide support for victims of sexual assault. They also hold a biannual public interactive art event: "I Will Walk With You" and organize the annual "Take Back the Night" marches. The Counseling Center also had a table at the event. Counselor Alyce Neuman informed me that they recently started collaborating with Active Minds to spread awareness of their services and let students know how to access them.
A Bystander Intervention team was also present, with Assistant Dean of Students for Intervention Support Kristine Guzman as its main representative. This organization aims to provide students with crisis response and 24/7 access to mental health resources. It also helps other campus organizations become better equipped to intervene with mental health issues. Along with Guzman were two learning assistants, Timothy Haddad ’20 from Nugent Hall and Ariana Espinal ’20 from Crockett Hall. Their role is to assist freshmen with, in Espinal’s words, the transition from “high school academics to college academics, because it can get spooky.”
Other organizations present included the Archer Center for Student Leadership Development, the Troy Police, the Department of Public Safety, Student Government, Alpha Phi Omega, the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, the Rensselaer Outing Club, the Interfraternity Council, the Mueller Center Wellness Institute, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York State.
My disappointment with the event was the sparse attendance. Wednesdays tend to be fairly free days for most RPI students, which may explain why they would be doing things other than wandering the campus to happen upon an event in the ’86 Field. Additionally, I found that this event was not advertised enough. Mental health is an important issue to bring to light, especially on a campus with rigorous academics like RPI. Perhaps if the event were held on another day and had been more strategic with its advertising, it would have received more traffic from students passing through the field on the way to and from their classes.
Overall, I appreciated that Active Minds had an event to promote the mental health resources on campus. I also believe that their cause is one that has the potential to help many students.