I have to be honest, when I decided to go to New Mexico this spring break with the Lawrence University Native American Organization (LUNA), I was in search of healing. There was an emotional wound at Lawrence that had begun to fester and it needed to heal. This wound was inflicted by the structural violence and the toxic environment that the student body breeds, and I needed to get away.
I have been part of the Committee on Diversity Affairs since my freshman year, and mental health has been on the minds of marginalized students on campus. When the list of demands was brought to the table towards the end of Winter Term, it proved not only how racist the town of Appleton was, but it deconstructed the idea that Lawrence was this “liberal utopia.”
A typical college student comes back from spring break with a tan and epic stories to tell. I came back with herbal medicine to help de-stress, and new ways of navigating toxic spaces.
Mental health has become a central topic to the existence of disadvantaged students. The People of Color and Gay Lesbian or Whatever (GLOW) list of demands demonstrates that a culture shift needs to happen. Most importantly, this shift needs to happen in the way we talk about difficult topics and address serious issues.
The word “violence” is usually interpreted in the physical sense, but violence can also occupy the realms of the psychological and emotional. We know this because of the existence of theories such as Historical Trauma and Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Some people get offended by some words, but others are triggered.
When some marginalized students are faced with macroaggressions or discriminatory acts, they are not just offended; they have been triggered. Some say that trigger warnings are not necessary because they stifle conversation. What people do not understand is that trigger warnings are not meant to limit a conversation, rather they are an anti-oppression tool that gives a person the agency to not relive their trauma.
When students are not listened to, it is at the cost of their mental wellbeing. A perfect example of this is the return of Thomas Skoog. Sexual assault survivors had protested his return last Spring Term, and they were not listened to. Now with the charges against Skoog, the administration has once again put the campus in turmoil. The mental health of these survivors is now put on the line because the administration did not listen. School policies and decisions can endanger the wellbeing of students.
While I can bash the administration in a plethora of ways, that is not the point of this article. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how we are part of a larger system; it is to make the administration realize that they are not isolated from the student body. As an institution Lawrence cannot fail to see the intersections between mental health and student retention rates, especially in marginalized students. It does not matter how much financial aid is given; if the mind is not at ease there is no point in staying. I wanted to leave Lawrence my freshman year—even though I had a full tuition scholarship. I have seen so many of my friends leave because of the college’s inability to address issues of mental health.
I know that there are current initiatives that are being done to expand the counseling center at the university, but this is a reminder to the administration and the student body that the decision that we make whether individually or as a group affects the campus structurally and culturally. Our actions shape the campus climate, and the campus climate affects us all.