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Green Bandana Project builds a bright support network across Grounds

How this student organization helps to facilitate student-to-student mental health allyship

Across Grounds, green bandanas on backpacks around Grounds have become a symbol to other students to show that anyone who needs mental health support can come to them. Since April 2020, The Green Bandana Project has been a growing group of students dedicated to establishing a network of peer-to-peer aid for students in need of mental health support.

Though the club is relatively new to the University, membership has quickly risen since its inception, says Tyler Kimble, president of the Green Bandana Project and third-year Commerce student. Today, the Green Bandana Project has garnered nearly 400 members to serve as sources of support for others on Grounds, with the goal of providing a support network in response to the intense stressors they face in their academic and social lives.

The Green Bandana Project originated at the University of Wisconsin in 2016 and has since become an incorporated nonprofit organization. The organization was originally founded by Wisconsin student Conlin Bass after he lost an uncle and a close friend to suicide. Since then, the project has spread to 40 different universities across the nation. 

Kimble and his fellow executive officers including third-year Commerce student Jack Waters, third-year Commerce student Zachery Weber, third-year Commerce student Grant Honker and third-year Commerce student Eric Schlawin were inspired by the Wisconsin chapter’s success and took the initiative to create a chapter on Grounds after noticing the dramatic effect the COVID-19 pandemic was having on student mental health. The University’s chapter is one of the first branches on the East Coast and the first in Virginia.

The club’s premise revolves around the symbolic green bandana, which makes membership simple and accessible while expanding the visibility of these allies on Grounds. Members who wear bandanas are showing others they are available to listen to anyone who has mental health concerns or simply needs someone to talk to.

“We distribute lime green bandanas to students for them to tie in their backpacks,” Kimble said. “It’s a form of visual allyship and support. The bandana symbolizes this idea that you're willing to listen or be heard with any mental health concerns, and, through this distribution, the goal is to create a visual community of support at U.Va.”

By creating such a large support network, the Green Bandana Project is working to eliminate the fear of reaching out that many people feel. 

“The first and most important step that someone can take to get help is to reach out to family and friends,” Kimble said. “So wearing a bandana shows that you're happy to help with that step or just to provide resources.”

These members are also instructed to connect those seeking help to resources within and outside the University to provide more advanced support for their mental health needs.

“They are provided plenty of resources, and they’re all located on our website,” Weber said. “[The resources] are segmented into mental health and wellbeing, LGBTQ+-specific resources and then more resources tailored to minority and marginalized communities.” 

The Green Bandana Project does not require dues, and anyone is able to join. Bandanas are provided free of cost to new members after taking the club’s pledge, which requires individuals to affirm they are willing to help and advocate for anyone that may approach them.

Aatmika Deshpande, Green Bandana Project member and fourth-year Engineering student, was friends with many members before joining herself, and she explained how their support encouraged her to become a member.

“I just appreciated the fact that I had them to talk to a lot because I think it's helped me to not just keep everything internal and [to] talk to other people,” Deshpande said. “I just wanted to be able to do that for anybody else if needed.”

Many members of the club have found it has introduced them to new friends and a strong support network. Deshpande emphasized a commitment to honest conversations about one another’s mental well-being.

“It's not like a generic, whenever we see each other — ‘Oh, how are you? I'm fine,’” Deshpande said. “It's more like a ‘Describe your day in three words and how are you feeling and why.’ So we kind of force each other to actually explain how we're doing that day.”

Lindsey Norberg, Green Bandana Project member and fourth-year College student, joined the club to contribute to a better environment for students’ mental health on Grounds.

“I think that kind of just showing visually the solidarity that there are people that care about you — even if you don't know them — just by this small symbolic green bandana, is really powerful,” Norberg said.

The club further intends to alleviate some of the pressures created by the strenuous academic and social environment at the University.  Recognizing that many students hold themselves to high academic and social standards—the “work-hard play-hard” mentality—Norberg said that this attitude, however, can take a heavy toll on a student’s mental well-being. 

“U.Va. is a really intense school and although it's a bunch of high-achieving people, it's a little bit difficult to sometimes admit when you're not doing well,” Norberg said.

One of the biggest challenges facing those with mental health concerns is making the effort to reach out, which can be made even harder in a university setting. The competitive sentiment among college students can hold people back from admitting their vulnerabilities and struggles. To fight this stigma, Kimble said all students are encouraged to join and become an ally to their peers on Grounds who might want someone to talk to or who might just need a visual symbol that there are others who understand and care about their mental health needs.

“There's no such thing as the perfect member,” Weber said. “You can be as active or as passive of an ally as you want — it's just the pledge that you will be an ally, whether you're approached or not.”

The club will be raising funds for the first time in order to purchase more bandanas for new members. They will do so through planning various events, including selling wristbands for Trinity Irish Pub on Nov. 9 from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

The Green Bandana Project hopes to alter the mindset surrounding mental health on Grounds and to establish an environment where students can be open and honest about their needs. 

“We want to change the narrative to be that it’s okay to not be okay and to stimulate conversations where you can be vulnerable and honest,” Kimble said.

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