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Support group created to aid in mental health of college students of color in Washtenaw County

Support group for students of color at Eastern Michigan University, University of Michigan and Washtenaw Community college
Eastern Michigan University
Stock Photo of EMU students on campus.


Cathy Shafran: This is 89.1 WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran. When it comes to mental health, statistics tell us that people of color are far less likely to seek treatment than white Americans. The reasons vary. Some attribute it to a disparity in health care coverage. Some say it's a mistrust of the medical and mental health care systems. Some point to a lack of therapists of color. Others simply conclude that it's a cultural sensitivity to seeking emotional support outside of the home. Whatever the case, a local group has come together to address the mental health needs of students of color. They're called the Campuses in Color. It's part of the NAMI, standing for National Alliance on Mental Illness, and it was created by those at Eastern Michigan University in collaboration with the University of Michigan's Wolverine Wellness and Washtenaw Community College. Now, Le’Shay Webb is program coordinator for CORE. That's EMU's Center for Race and Ethnicity. Le’Shay, thanks for joining us.

Le’Shay Webb: Yeah, thank you for having me, Cathy.

Cathy Shafran: Can you tell me why this group was started?

Le’Shay Webb: Support groups are very important, and they help fill the gap between medical treatment and emotional support. We have just been seeing a number of students who are presenting with more barriers in a mental health domain, especially since the pandemic. It is especially hard for students to focus on things like their academics, their education, when they are not feeling well in a mental health domain. Therefore, we decided it would be very important to have a support group, so that students can come together and share some of their experiences.

Cathy Shafran: You mentioned that, as a result of the pandemic, you were seeing more anxiety and more issues. Can you paint me a picture of what you're seeing and how you identified that the need was there?

Le’Shay Webb: So, we are seeing specifically students come into the CORE center, and they are unable to focus on their academics. Sometimes, they are not aware why. They may describe feeling more stress, more fatigue, loss of desire, no motivation, things like that. They just indicate there is something going on mentally that is presenting a barrier and them being able to progress in their education. And so, as we see students come in and talk about these symptoms, we realize, okay, we have to give more support in place, so that students can actually get across the stage and fight some of these barriers that they're having.

Cathy Shafran: Do you think these are problems unique to students of color, or you just felt that this needed to be addressed because you're seeing it in your center of race and ethnicity?

Le’Shay Webb: I think anxiety and depression is pretty even across the board. I think, however, when it comes to students of color, they're less likely to seek treatment for some of the reasons that you mentioned earlier. I specifically, because I am working with students of color, I am seeing these symptoms present, and they are being talked about more and more. They are enabling or disabling students more and more. And so, it's at a point where we have to do some type of intervention if we want to help support students and get them across the stage.

Cathy Shafran: Can you tell me how it works?

Le’Shay Webb: Yeah. So, it's for students of color who either identify having a mental health condition or they live in support of someone who have a mental health condition. This group is a collaborative support group, so it's for EMU students, U of M students, and Washtenaw Community College students.

Cathy Shafran When you say a support group, is it a location for people to come and talk, or are there professionals there that are helping shape the discussion?

Le’Shay Webb: Yeah, so it's a little bit of both. The group is facilitated by mental health professionals that are facilitators of NAMI and are trained through NAMI, and the students are able to drop in. So, they can come to one group, two groups, all groups whenever they feel like they're having an issue, or they need extra support. The location varies. It goes from a hybrid model. Sometimes groups are via Zoom. Other times groups are on one of the three campuses.

Cathy Shafran: So, the students you are seeing who have coming in with the problems that you've been talking about, have you suggested to them from time to time that they seek support counseling?

Le’Shay Webb: I absolutely do. I'm always referring students to our counseling and psychological services. Sometimes, there is a longer waitlist. Sometimes, students want a therapist who is of color and looks the way that they look. They feel like they're able to build a stronger rapport in that way. And we just don't have that kind of manpower on campus, which is another reason why I said, "Okay, we have to do something about this. We need to kind of have a safe place for students of color to come and talk about what they're dealing with."

Cathy Shafran: Arnecia Paul is actually one of the students who's participating in the support group. Arnecia is joining us. And I want to thank you so much for being here to share your story in hopes that maybe it will help others see that they're not alone as well. So, thanks for being with us. Can you tell me what brought you to the support group?

Arnecia Paul: I was just laying in bed scrolling through Instagram and I saw but like previously, I have been struggling really hard with my mental health. Like, I have gone to, like, a deep, deep place. And I do see a therapist, and I am currently taking medication and stuff, but both of them, the doctor and the therapist, could refer me to, you know, support groups. But just like Le'Shay said earlier, I just was, like, afraid to kind of go to stuff like that because I honestly thought that, you know, I want to say it was no point to support groups. But, like, it's just a point of that...I don't know....

Cathy Shafran: Dealing with it on your own.

Arnecia Paul: Yeah.

Cathy Shafran: What can you learn from others is that.

Arnecia Paul: Yeah. So, like I said, scrolling a bit, looking at it and, I don't know, I just stared at it for a minute and I kind of like thought, like, maybe this is a sign for me to initially do a support group. So I did. And, of course, I thought about it, thought about I was like, Maybe this isn't what I need to do. And then other avenues like, this is maybe something. So, when I went, of course, I was really anxious. But the atmosphere, everybody being there, having food and stuff, and everybody just being comfortable, it kind of lessened my anxiety. And then, of course, once we started talking and then I'm hearing a lot of stories and a lot of things that people are going to they're related to what I was. It really eased my anxiety and stuff.

Cathy Shafran: Can I ask you to give me an example of the anxiety type that you have and then hearing others with similar situations?

Arnecia Paul: So, I definitely have a lot of anxiety relating to school problems, at-home problems, and just being myself type of problems. And when I went to this support group, a lot of people talked about the same exact problems, like relating to school, how they feel drained, and how classes were, you know, kind of getting to be a little too much for them. And then also with a lot of at home dealing with their family members and stuff like that. So, it really made me feel comfortable in a way because I'm, like, maybe with a lot of problems that I'm experiencing, maybe a lot of people, not once I'm hearing a lot of people saying it, it definitely made me feel better in a way.

Cathy Shafran: When you were scrolling and you saw word of this group, did the fact that it was a support group for students of color impact your decision to join?

Arnecia Paul: It definitely impacted my decision because, in a way I feel like a student of color group. I feel like kind of in a way that I felt like I could relate because although, like, I just said, like, with anxiety and stuff like that, but just like cultural-wise and stuff, I feel like they would understand me in a way because like if I was to go to, you know, maybe another one of my friends and I was to say some other stuff, they would take it differently than if I was to talk to people of color. And, you know, they kind of have like the same experience and cultural as me.

Cathy Shafran: Is there any advice you would give to other students who might be experiencing anxiety or emotional problems in terms of this group, whether you think it could offer them help?

Arnecia Paul: The advice that I would give is definitely don't be afraid to go because there's always going to be somebody or even a lot of people that maybe are not going through the same exact thing, then maybe going through something similar. And you guys can kind of come together and be in support of one another, so that everybody don't feel alone.

Cathy Shafran: Thank you. I do have one more question for you, Le'Shay, and that is the logistics of it. If people are interested in pursuing the support group, how do they attend? When are the meetings?

Le’Shay Webb: So, the meetings are on Sunday. They are from 3 to 5 p.m. And, again, that is a hybrid format, so it will either be in-person or virtual via Zoom. There is a link to register. Once you register for the event, you'll receive location details, and you can drop into whatever support group you like.

Cathy Shafran: Okay. And we will have the link to that on our website, WEMU dot org. It's a relatively new organization. It just started in January.

Le’Shay Webb: Correct.

Cathy Shafran: What are your hopes for it?

Le’Shay Webb: I hope that students come out and feel supported. I hope that students feel that they are able to have a safe place to feel comfortable enough about their mental health conditions and that they use the opportunity to go ahead, go for it, and seek the help that they need.

Cathy Shafran: And again, this is for students, not just at Eastern Michigan University, correct?

Le’Shay Webb: Correct. It is a collaborative effort between Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, and U of M.

Cathy Shafran: So, all students who are students of color that fit into one of those colleges, universities are welcomed and urged to attend.

Le’Shay Webb Absolutely.

Cathy Shafran Le'Shay and Arnecia, I want to thank you both so much for joining us today for this important discussion about mental health needs of students of color. I'm Cathy Shafran. This is WEMU 89.1 FM, Ypsilanti.


EMU Center for Race and Ethnicity (CORE)

NAMI Campuses in Color

To register for the group or learn more, please visit campuses-in-color-support-group.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
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