“You need to go talk to Brian,” a friend said to Wharton junior Rachel Palmer.
Her friend was referring to the director of Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, Brian Peterson, in response to Palmer’s question about an academic issue. Though Palmer knew of the cultural center as a resource on campus, she had never taken advantage of it.
“After my first experience, I was there every day,” Palmer said.
Palmer is one of the students featured in the My Safe Space at Penn campaign. The campaign was founded last spring by the student leaders of the 5B — a coalition of minority groups — to highlight Penn’s seven cultural centers as additional resources for students outside of Counseling and Psychological Services.
The centers include Greenfield Intercultural Center, La Casa Latina, the LGBT Center, Makuu, the Pan-Asian American Community House and the Women’s Center.
The campaign shows that “you have an opportunity to go and talk to people who understand what you’re going through, whether that be academic issues, social issues or if you just need to talk to someone who’ll be able to relate to you,” said College senior Denzel Cummings, one of the student leaders behind the campaign and a co-chair of UMOJA.
Following three suicides last semester, the student body started a more open and active discussion about mental health. The My Safe Space at Penn campaign was one of the results of these conversations.
The campaign consists of a video and posters which are being presented during New Student Orientation. The video, specifically, features six different students sharing how they have found a sense of belonging at Penn through the centers.
The centers are particularly important for supporting minority students’ mental wellness because talking about and seeking treatment for mental illness can be stigmatized in these communities.
“From the perspective of UMOJA, something that we talk about a lot is how minority students from the African diaspora don’t always feel comfortable talking about the mental issues they have. Culturally it’s not something that’s talked about as much,” Cummings said.
In addition, minority students may face different challenges in adapting to Penn. Cummings noted that he went to a primarily black high school whose student body was “completely different” from Penn’s. “Minority students a lot of times have different burdens, such as breaking down the achievement gap,” he said.
Addressing these specific challenges is exactly where the cultural centers come in by connecting with students who may be shy about asking for help.
However, the centers are not an official alternative to CAPS for mental wellness
“The cultural resource centers don’t have a clinical function or role,” Associate Vice Provost for Equity and Access William Gipson said in an email. “But from a holistic perspective, they are spaces that support student interest in culture, traditions and identity exploration.”
Students in the campaign said they see the centers as a complement to CAPS.
“A lot of times, given the stigma against mental health, a lot of people, especially incoming freshmen, are a little hesitant to go to CAPS, at first,” said Stephanie Jideama, a College senior who was featured in the video. “However the cultural centers ... they are that bridge to go to CAPS.”
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