Hopkins hosts dialogue on mental health for women of color

By RACHEL JUIENG | March 28, 2019

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COURTESY OF RACHEL JUIENG The Voices of Color event focused on mental health and wellness.

The Office of Women and Gender Resources, Office of Multicultural Affairs and Alumni Relations co-hosted the second annual “Voices of Color: A Dialogue with Hopkins Women” event on Wednesday. While last year’s participants engaged in a general discussion between women, alumni and students of color, this year’s theme focused specifically on mental health. 

Junior Maya Foster co-founded the event and has organized it for the past two years. She wanted to talk about mental health this year to help uplift women of color at Hopkins. 

“Mental health and wellness is particularly important to women of color. We hope that the event will help you thrive and be the best version of yourself in a world that sometimes doesn’t allow us to easily do so,” she said. 

Renee Chenault-Fattah, trustee at Hopkins and Class of 1979, met Maya Foster at a Board of Trustees event and later worked with her to actualize Voices of Color. Chenault-Fattah spoke about how Hopkins students today have more options to address mental health than previous classes. 

“Mental health is an issue that doesn’t just confront women of color. It’s an issue that is at the forefront right now. This is an effort to have dialogue,” she said. “When I was a student here, there weren’t counselors or resources for when you were struggling. I want the men and women here to know that it’s important to talk about your mental health.”

Voices of Color hopes to bring together female students of color with women of color in the larger Hopkins community. According to Foster, women at Hopkins can relate to and benefit from dialogue with female alumni and faculty who have likely had similar experiences and challenges. 

The audience engaged in a guided group meditation. 

Graduate student Pooja Deshpande led the meditation in the hopes of forming cohesion and a sense of community in the room. She elaborated on this idea in an interview with The News-Letter.

“Even though we all come from different backgrounds, different cultures and different countries, breath is something that unites all of us,“ she said. ”So many times when we are stressed or challenged, we forget to breathe.”

When planning the event, Foster sought to emphasize the importance of personal mental health and shared experiences. 

“Trying to have the theme in every capacity was important; we had the mediation activity to calm down, then transitioned into hearing different perspectives from the professional world. Later, we heard students speak about the stressors of college,” she said. 

Female Leaders of Color Co-President Nya Jones helped organize the event and explained the importance of focusing on mental health. She noted that one of the main points of the event was to ensure that women of color feel a sense of community with both their peers and alumni. 

“We are a small community at Hopkins, but we also need to connect with alumni and professional women,” she said. “A lot of women of color face trauma because of their experiences and microaggressions, so we wanted to center around taking care of yourself as a woman of color.”

Hopkins alum Margia Argüello spoke about creating a community and support system. 

“Academically, we have so many great institutions, but in general, students of color, employees of color and workers of color are very underrepresented. We need to strengthen the network and diversity. Diverse communities can learn from each other more, and it’s an enriching culture,” she said. 

Senior Associate Dean of Students Toni Blackwell praised the event. 

“It’s a great way to build community with women of color and particularly know that women of color have support from the Board of Trustees and faculty. In this particular setting, unlike in an academic setting, there is no competition. There’s just people being present and supporting each other,” she said.

Deshpande recommended one simple way to tackle mental health. 

“If you know for a fact that you are not feeling good for days at time, talk about it,“ she said. “We have so many resources, but sometimes talking about it on an informal basis can be really impactful.” 

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