3 tips for dealing with mental health issues exacerbated by anti-Blackness on college campuses
There is no award for those who go to the most protests or attend the most sit-ins.
By Gloria Oladipo
All college students have experience being tired and stressed due to the variety of issues at schools. However, for Black students, feelings of weariness and mental exhaustion are exacerbated when anti-Black events occur on campus.
Since enrolling at Cornell University last August, the following “racial incidents” have occurred: “Build a Wall” was chanted at the Cornell Latino Living Center, a Black student was beaten whilst being called a “nigger”, and posters with swastikas were published across campus. Of course, this list doesn’t include the countless instances of interpersonal racism directed towards Black and students of color daily, which also impact our lives.
When anti-Black events happen on campus, Black students’ responses are necessarily more complicated than simple outrage. We feel anger, yes, but we are also bombarded with deep sorrow and disappointment that this is the world we live in.
Obviously, such constant toxicity at one’s college campus can be mentally depleting. Heightened anxiety around the potentiality of a next target and depression about the campus’s apathy towards anti-Black scenarios are common.
Additionally, the added stresses of these events can make pre-existing mental conditions for Black students worse. Even more frustrating, the overwhelmingly white mental health professionals on college campuses are not equipped to deal with the mental or emotional needs of students following these events, often only offering shallow encouragements and a dose of “it gets better.”
How should students care for themselves in times of racial crisis without being complacent in the events happening around them? Below are three tips that may help:
1. Practice Not Just Self-Care, but Community-Care
It is important that we students find ways to care for ourselves under times of duress. Television, exercise, hot baths—whatever it takes for us to not always feel threatened or like we are playing offense against racists on campus.
Sometimes, these acts of care can look like not going to every protest, or doing activities that don’t involve resistance. Activism is important, but it is also important to take the time to recharge and be emotionally honest with how we are feeling. These moments of rest shouldn’t be seen as an unwillingness to confront reality, but rather a purposeful time to regain mental strength.
In this vein, activism is not a race or competition. There is no award for those who go to the most protests or attend the most sit-ins. Therefore, it is key to not judge those who can’t always come out, and not create litmus tests for who is “woke” based on these incorrect variants.
Everyone is at different levels at any given time. Don’t compromise someone’s mental health with added pressure and judgement associated with public resistance.
2. Find Ways to Elevate Our Thoughts and Actions
When campus authorities treat anti-Black incidents as commonplace, it is easy to feel that our outrage is misplaced or dramatic, even when both of these feelings, while valid, are incorrect. No student should feel threatened or unsafe at their own school.
Therefore, Black students need to find channels of communication or other actions that can make their thoughts and feelings feel valued. For some, art like spoken word or visual expression can be their way of expressing their truth. Others engage in volunteering or alternative ways of giving back to directly improve campus.
It doesn’t matter how, it just matters that students can find avenues to feel empowered in institutions that work very hard to make them feel the opposite.
3. Understand That It’s Not Your Responsibility To Fix Anti-Blackness
Black people should have a stake in our own resistance, but we should also have the grace to not always be organizing and educating “allies,” especially when these actions deplete one’s mental health. Those with resources and representation must amplify marginalized voices in a sincere way, not one that reeks of moral self-indulgence or patronizing re-explanations of anti-Blackness to Black people.
Despite the feelings of hope that can occur with the rising amount of student action in response to racist events, anti-Blackness on college campuses isn’t going away anytime soon. However, we students have the power to come up with working strategies to resist while also taking the time and making the space to care for ourselves.
The fact that our college experiences are marked with constant anti-Black events is not right or fair, but in response to this, we as students should have a toolbox of techniques to care and advocate for ourselves and each other whenever needed.
Gloria Oladipo is a Black/Nigerian-American first year student at Cornell University. Based in Chicago, IL.