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Well-Being Profile: Student Mental Health Collective

Students supporting mental health on campus
The Student Mental Health Collective supports peers and promotes well-being of all types.

The Student Mental Health Collective (SMHC), a group of well-being focused student organizations at Cornell, banded together as part of the Student Mental Health Review to collaborate on mutual interests and collectively promote health and well-being across campus. Working together throughout the academic year, the Collective supports their peers and promotes well-being of all types.

To enhance student awareness of campus organizations, advocate peer-to-peer discussion in the support of student well-being, and reduce the stigma of mental illness, the Collective launched a partnership with Student and Campus Life at the start of the 2022-2023 academic year. Further, this fall, Cornell adopted the Okanagan Charter, becoming the first Ivy to identify as a Health-Promoting Campus. These organizations all played a role in furthering the Okanagan Charter framework across Cornell’s campus and throughout the student community.

Each of these organizations offer students the potential to grow valuable leadership skills along with opportunities to engage with and impact the ways students support their own well-being.

Peer-to-peer collective

Body Positive Cornell

Body Positive Cornell (BPC) is a student-led organization focused on fostering body acceptance. Claudia Leon ’23, one of the organization’s co-presidents, notes that among her reasons for being involved in this work is that “these are issues that are not given a lot of visibility on campus. On college campuses, there are unique problems surrounding body image and eating disorders.”

Fellow Co-President Katie Gorton ’24 adds, “There are a lot of common activities around not sleeping, or not exercising, or prioritizing and work over well-being. We are trying to advocate that by taking care of your mental health and physical body, it impacts how you show up as a student and how you contribute to the community and feel your best.”

Anna Pirog, BPC program coordinator and club advisor says, "Body Positive Cornell is exploring and promoting constructive dialogue and healing surrounding body acceptance/neutrality and the many intersecting identities that are interwoven into these conversations. This aligns with Cornell's larger mission of belonging, which is essential to a health-promoting campus and community. Our student leaders are creating meaningful change by holding space for their peers, promoting body positivity through educational outreach events, and leading with authenticity, vulnerability, and compassion.”

Cornell Minds Matter

Cornell Minds Matter (CMM) is dedicated to advocating for and supporting the entire student community. Former president Bianca Beckwith ’23 describes the organization as events-focused, often bringing speakers to campus to discuss well-being and coordinating stress reduction and community-building events, such as ice cream socials and support animal breaks. These programs are made possible through partnerships with campus offices and local organizations.

Catherine Thrasher-Carol, staff advisor for the group, says “Cornell Minds Matter has continues to consistently offer opportunities for students to connect with one another and engage in stress reducing, mental health support activities throughout the pandemic (virtual) and into the full return to in-person campus life. Examples include sponsoring weekly, free yoga and Zumba classes in partnership with Cornell Fitness Centers, co-sponsorship of campus speakers and free snacks available in libraries during study & finals period.”

Current president Nicole Huang ‘23 says, “At its core, CMM is a safe space for students to openly talk about their mental health and how they are really feeling. Since joining in my freshman year, CMM has been extremely valuable to me as one of the few settings in which I have been able to have genuine discussions about my own mental health and the experiences of others on this campus. I think creating a space in which students' voices can be heard and supported is crucial to improving mental health on campus because it works toward de-stigmatizing mental health problems, which may help people become more comfortable talking about their own experiences or be more likely to seek help.”

Empathy, Assistance & Referral Service

The student-led Empathy, Assistance & Referral Service (EARS), celebrated its 50th anniversary on campus last year. EARS members are trained students who serve as peer mentors and/or training and workshop facilitators. Karim Lakhani ’23, EARS’s co-executive coordinator says, “Our primary goal is to improve mental health on campus, whatever way we can do that.”

The group’s staff advisor, Abi Dubovi, says the student led organization “plays an important and unique role in promoting empathy, communication skills, and authentic social connections through training, peer mentoring, and workshops to promote well-being among the Cornell student community.”

Co-Executive Coordinator Antonia Pellegrini says, "I joined the EARS community during my first semester at Cornell four years ago because I connected with its mission of fostering a more empathetic and caring community. I stayed in EARS because it was the first place on campus where I felt seen, heard, and belonging. Reflecting on the past four years, I will forever be grateful for the relationships and memories I made here in EARS because they helped shape who I am today. My personal experiences have shown me that apart from the many services that EARS offers to the entire community, it is also a safe space and welcoming space for staff members to find a community within each other."

One Love at Cornell

One Love at Cornell is a chapter of a national organization present on hundreds of campuses nationwide which focuses on educating peers on the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. The Cornell chapter focuses primarily on romantic relationships, but also shines a light on what healthy platonic relationships look like.

Callista Wessells ‘23, the group’s co-president, estimates that the group facilitates 20 workshops each semester, often in collaboration with other student organizations, Greek organizations, and athletic teams, as well as Cornell offices including the Women’s Resource Center and LGBT Resource Center. These workshops are intended to be educational and full of dialogue between the facilitators and participants.

Important spaces to have and grow

In the eyes of group leadership, the spaces created by these organizations are critical on a college campus. “It’s important to have these spaces on campus,” says Claudia of BPC. “You get to college and it’s most likely your first time living on your own and having full control over your schedule, where you eat and what you eat and that’s really difficult for people. There are unhealthy behaviors, like treating food as a reward, like, ‘I’m not going to eat until I finish this,’ or, ‘I’m not going to eat today because I’m going out tonight,’ like dangerous behaviors and that’s why these spaces are important to have.”

Laura Weiss, staff advisor to One Love says, “The conversations that One Love and these student groups offer contribute to establishing healthy norms and values for the Cornell community and improving the quality of students’ relationships ̶ with themselves and others. It’s valuable work that helps create a healthy and respectful culture for our community.”

Looking to the future, the groups are similarly focused on building their presence on campus and growing membership. Body Positive seeks to build membership and deepen and grow their collaborative relationships with a particular interest in collaborating with Resident Hall directors and assistants to facilitate conversations inside Cornell residential spaces.

EARS hopes to expand its peer mentorship services. “EARS aims to support more students at Cornell by expanding its outreach initiatives and increasing the presence of its one-on-one peer listening service on campus,” Antonia says.

One Love’s Callista says, “We want to broaden our reach and continue to foster a sense of community with the club. The topics that we discuss are so important.”

Regardless of their individual goals, each organization encourages their peers to get involved with a well-being group to be part of something that makes a big impact. “Even if they are not involved with a mental health organization but want to be in touch or involved with the Collective, please do,” Bianca says. “We are always looking to expand, and we are happy to have you on the team and help you find your community.”