Lifeline grant supports identity through mask decorating event

Maija Anstine

Students, faculty, staff and their families gathered Feb. 13 in the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center multipurpose room to create masks as part of the Lifeline connecting grant.

The three-year, $300,000 grant, geared toward suicide prevention on college campuses, sponsored the event. Assistant Director of Counseling Services Paul Valencic, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Julie Haurykiewicz, Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Affairs Pa Lee Moua and Associate Director of Counseling Services Jerri Kahl formed the core organizational team for the event.

Different shapes of masks and craft supplies were available for decorating the roughly 40 masks produced on Sunday. Participants were also encouraged to bring their own materials.

“It was like a buffet in a way,” said Haurykiewicz.

The masks will be on display for one week in the Warch Campus Center gallery, starting next Monday.

“Each person was able to represent themselves in a unique way,” said Kahl. “When [participants] are done, they kind of look back and say ‘yeah, this is me.'”

Emma Blair ’11 made her mask “basically through just grabbing what appealed to me at the craft station, and then going with the flow,” ending up with a mask that “went the nature route.”

Student assistant for the Suicide Prevention Grant and Wellness Committee president Kelsey Cavanagh-Strong ’11 commented that it was “interesting to see how different people decorated their mask and interpreted the idea of ‘presenting’ the mask that you either share with the public or hide.”

Participants were also able to write a narrative to accompany their mask, explaining its significance, either anonymously or with their name attached. These narratives will be on display alongside the masks in the Warch Campus Center gallery.

“We all wear a mask — actors, people in general,” explained Kahl. “Underneath, we’re all human beings. We have similar hopes and dreams and fears.”

For Kahl, the masks gave participants the opportunity to represent either the side of themselves that they present to society or the side that they conceal. Haurykiewicz called this “the theme of what do we reveal and what do we hide?”

Said Haurykiewicz, “It was fun thinking of community in terms of how we connect through what we reveal to each other.” One of the grant’s primary goals is to help people feel more connected, according to Kahl.

The Lifeline committee hopes to repeat the event in the spring and is considering making it an ongoing activity. Kahl mentioned that the masks may be involved in a possible creative collaboration with James G. and Ethel M. Barber Professor of Theatre and Drama Kathy Privatt, turning “a static art project into dance.”

Plans for other upcoming grant-sponsored activities include the QPR — Question, Persuade, Refer — training available to all faculty, students and staff, which prepares participants to communicate with people they think might be at risk for suicidal behavior.

More information on the Lifeline grant and QPR training is available at