​Project RISE hosts Black Minds Matter

Organization collaborates with Fight the Stigma to discuss mental health in the black community

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Project RISE purposely chose facilitators with diverse backgrounds to focus on every aspect of mental health, including counseling, clinical psychology and spirituality.

Mairead Crotty | Cavalier Daily

Project RISE and Fight the Stigma partnered to host Black Minds Matter on Tuesday, an open discussion on the stigma surrounding mental health in the black community.

Project RISE is a peer counseling service founded at the University in 2006 after students noticed a need for additional peer counseling in the Office of African-American Affairs. The service provides trained peer counselors support to students as well as direct students to other University programs if necessary.

OAAA conducted a needs assessment and found students are most likely to seek support from their peers. While each black first-year and transfer student is assigned a peer advisor, the program ends after their first year at the University.

Project RISE peer counselors prepare for their role by taking EDHS 3895: Peer Counseling Theory and Skills, taught by Project RISE Director and Asst. Dean Michael G. Mason.

“The first course I teach is giving people the skills to talk about [mental health issues] in everyday situations, one-to-one. Being able to think about what you’re hearing, and being able to recognize distress in that, and … being able to carry appropriately concerns that I might describe as developmental,” Mason said. “Sometimes this developmental experience becomes clinical. In those cases, I don’t know that students need to carry that, so they need to be able to have the information they need to refer those students to individuals in the University who can actually help them.”

Jonea Ahouissoussi, co-director of Project RISE and a fourth-year College student, said Project RISE began planning Black Minds Matter before spring break, after Fight the Stigma reached out to the Black Presidents Council about hosting an event about mental health in the black community.

“Project RISE is one of the only black-specific organizations that focuses on mental health issues at the University, so we were very excited to hear about Fight the Stigma,” Ahouissoussi said. “We came up with the event Black Minds Matter, that we wanted to talk about the mental health issues in the black community and shine a light on them.”

Seher Raza, co-director of Project RISE and a fourth-year College student, said the event’s name — a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement — was chosen to allow students to discuss current events and how they might affect mental health.

“It was pretty clear that we wanted to focus on the overall theme of stigma around mental health in the black community, and we were throwing ideas back and forth about what would really help students,” Raza said. “We figured that it would be very relevant to tie in those issues with this event, to really help students and open up that discussion, and create a safe space for multiple different opinions to talk about it.”

The discussion was facilitated by Asst. Prof. of Counselor Education Derick J. Williams, Assoc. Prof. of Psychology Noelle Hurd and Assoc. Prof. of Religious Studies Heather Warren.

Project RISE purposely chose facilitators with diverse backgrounds to focus on every aspect of mental health, including counseling, clinical psychology and spirituality.

“Also we really wanted to bring the spiritual aspect into it, because when you look at past histories, such as the Civil Rights movement — religion was very integral, and we feel as though with the Black Lives Matter movement, religion played a really important part, so it makes sense to also talk about the spiritual within mental health,” Ahouissoussi said.

About 30 people attended the discussion. After each facilitator introduced themselves, they opened the discussion with a broad question about stigmas surrounding mental health in the black community.

One of the participants said the culture of competition often experienced at the University is intensified in the small black community. Several students said it was difficult when meeting with mental health professionals who could not understand their experiences.

For an hour and 20 minutes, the participants and facilitators discussed their own experiences with mental health as members of the University and black communities. 

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