Written by Sureshi Jayawardene
According to a Harris Poll published in May this year, students of color at US universities and colleges are less likely to seek out help for depression or anxiety issues. These students also report experiencing a greater volume of micro-aggressions than White peers. Other factors also pose mental health risks for students of color.
These may include culturally-unrepresentative campus environments, racial discrimination, social stigma, micro-aggressions, marginalization, as well as difficult transitions between home and campus. The brutal realities of racial discrimination on college campuses is no secret, as we have seen in the recent case of Martese Johnson, an African American honor roll student at UVA. Thus, the combined effects of a mix of these factors can result in great academic costs for students. According to a CollegeBoard report from 2013, only 49% of African American students complete their 4-year degree, compared to 71% of White counterparts.
Research also shows a higher prevalence of depression among students of color than White students, suggesting a correlation between persistent college disparities and mental health issues. Further, there lies another discrepancy between the need for treatment and actual utilization of treatment among students of color. This might be explained by additional stereotyping and discrimination experienced when seeking out providers. It might also be explained by the cultural mismatch of providers. Hispanic, African American, and American Indian individuals are half as likely to have health care coverage compared to the average American, adding another dimension to the issue of access to quality mental health services. Access to services, however, has proved extremely beneficial. Studies show that students receiving counseling services are more likely to remain in school and complete their programs within five years of enrollment.
The Steve Fund (TSF) is the nation’s only organization geared toward supporting the mental health needs and emotional wellness of college students of color. TSF works with universities and colleges, researchers, nonprofits, and community groups to develop and support programs and strategies for mental and emotional health as youth of color enter, matriculate in, and transition from higher education. Their mission is to “grow knowledge and thought leadership among researchers, practitioners, young people and national leaders, work in partnership with charitable organizations and educational institutions to promote mental and emotional wellbeing of students of color, build awareness and voice among students.” TSF sponsored this year’s Black Solidarity Conference held in June at Yale and stressed the significance of mental health and wellness for Black college students. Workshops addressed issues ranging from micro-aggressions and on-campus racial discrimination to African American attitudes toward mental illness, attracting more than 700 undergraduates to the conference. Ms. Bell-Rose, co-founder of TSF underscores the importance of culturally sensitive approaches to support mental health and emotional wellbeing. She notes that these culturally specific needs are generally understudied and underserved. TSF aims to positively impact the delivery of mental and behavioral health services to young people of color supporting their academic potential and futures.
The organization recently partnered with Crisis Text Line to provide students of color with mental health support. This initiative is meant to improve critically needed access to crisis counseling among young people of color. Using advancements in mobile technology, TSF with Crisis Text Line, will recruit and train a group of youth of color to become crisis counselors. Text messaging is a central component of TSF’s strategy to meet the mental health needs of college students of color. Operating entirely through text messaging, a unique keyword for youth of color will provide access to free, 24-7 support during a crisis. The service is expected to launch in the winter this year.
For more information, please visit: http://www.stevefund.org/crisistextline
Eisenberg, D., Hunt, J, and Speer, N. (2013). Mental health in American colleges and universities: Variation across student subgroups and across campuses. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 201(1): 60-67
Written by Serie McDougal and Sureshi Jayawardene
The United Nations General Assembly met on Friday, September 25th in New York to adopt the “Transforming Our World” 2030 sustainable development agenda. This development agenda is a global plan of action for reducing inequality and achieving sustainable development. The significance and meaning of this development agenda for the African continent has already been examined. Tony Elumelu highlights that the private sector will need to play a crucial role putting this agenda into effect. Moreover, he notes that the tie between African entrepreneurs and governments requires continuing collaboration with donor agencies, philanthropists, and local non-governmental entities through the shared purpose of achieving these goals.
UN development agendas are often discussed on a national and even regional level. However, inequality increasingly takes place between diverse groups within nations. From an international perspective, the United States presents a unique situation. The dominant image of the US is that of an affluent and powerful nation. Nevertheless, a close look at the social realities of African Americans draws attention to internal inequalities and highlights the slippages in the wider appearance and reputation of this industrialized, highly developed, and affluent nation. Because of this, it is important to consider how the UN development agenda relates to the concerns of people of African descent within the US. Currently, people of African descent in the United States continue to face challenges including, but not limited to, underfunded and poor quality education, unlawful police killings, increased economic inequality, and sustained attacks on voting rights. Thus, how do these and other African American concerns fit within and without the 17 sustainable development goals affirmed by the United Nations General Assembly?
This question is particularly important given that at the end of 2014, the UN declared 2015-2024, the International Decade for People of African Descent to recognize that people of African descent are a distinct group whose human rights need protection and promotion. The specific objectives of this proclamation include “the need to strengthen national, regional and international cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society.” At the national level, states are encouraged to take thoughtful and practical action to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance toward people of African descent. Four major areas are emphasized in this area: recognition, justice, development, and multiple or aggravated discrimination with special attention to the conditions of women, girls, and young males. At the regional and international levels, organizations and agencies are called to disseminate and implement commitments under the Durban Declaration, assist states in implementation of programs and policies, gather statistical evidence, incorporate human rights into development agendas, and honor and preserve the historical memory of people of African descent. It is important to consider the significance of the UN’s new development goals in light of these specific objectives for people of African descent during the next ten years.
1. End poverty in all forms everywhere. The UN focuses on the need to mobilize resources and create policy frameworks to achieve this goal on an international scale. Although the agenda focuses on gender equality in the ending of poverty. In the American context, it is important to look at both gender and racial economic disadvantage. Presidential candidates must be pressed to present policy platforms that address: increasing the minimum wage, job training programs, job development programs that target areas with high levels of unemployment. Moreover, candidates should be pressed to address how they will enhance the current level of enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in employment and in the banking industry for example. African Americans must press candidates to address their plans for closing the racial wealth gap, enhancing enforcement of fair housing, mortgage and lending practices, creating programs to address financial literacy, and preparation for the changing job market for racially underrepresented groups. A novel initiative that could prove effective is the development of an alternative scoring model for lending agencies. The Federal Housing Finance Agency has recently urged government-sponsored enterprises to improve the ever-widening wealth gap.
2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote agriculture.
African Americans often live in areas where healthy food is not sufficiently accessible, affordable, or available. Food desserts and many African Americans’ concentration in them contributes to a myriad of health consequences. Current presidential candidates must be pressed about their intentions as they relate to expanding the current healthy places initiative, tax breaks to farmers markets, placing grocery stores in low income neighborhoods, and other initiatives that create greater food security for communities with less access to healthy food.
3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
African Americans continue to face less access to quality healthcare and increased exposure to environmental toxins (such as lead and unsafe housing). Current presidential candidates must be pressed about their intentions as they relate to increasing access to quality health care and expanding policies such as the family medical leave act, and the affordable care initiative, improved nutrition in public schools, and access to safe places to engage in physical activity (safe parks and recreational facilities).
4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
African Americans are positioned to benefit greatly from investments in early childhood education, child literacy programs, investments in STEM programs for racially underrepresented groups, access to affordable quality higher education, improving public schools, and enhance cultural congruence in education. Neither the UN nor the US has emphasized the necessity and significance of cultural relevance in teaching and curriculum.
5. Reduce inequality within and among countries
With the increased attention to the long trend of unlawful law enforcement killings of Black people in the US there is a great opportunity to press current presidential candidates to implement and refine the Grand Jury Reform Act to improve the process of investigating changes against law enforcement officers who use deadly force against civilians. This focus needs to be considered alongside other regulatory measures such as increased use of body cameras, demilitarizing local police, increased screening of officers, increased monitoring and prosecution of police abuses, and changing the culture of policing.
6. Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.
A recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics boasts the steady rate of national unemployment at 5.1% in September. The Black unemployment rate remains high – at 9.2%, nearly doubling the White rate 4.4% - although the Black civilian labor force expanded considerably in May. Moreover, the unemployment rate for Black teenagers (ages 16-19) was SIX times the national average (31.5%). This rate is also nearly twice the national average for teen unemployment. Years of unemployment in the African American community continue to cripple its overall ability for sustainability. Explanations for this crippling problem include incarceration rates, poverty, segregation, and low education achievement. Race, too, plays a significant role in finding work, even as laws make race-based discrimination illegal. Research finds that even with qualified African American applicants, racial signifiers such as their names and even their professional networks can be used against them.
7. Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable
Cities with large African American populations are plagued with segregation, poverty, and police brutality among many other issues. A group of Black youth in Baltimore, MD have been working on a proposal to increase the safety and sustainability of Inner Harbor. This project exemplifies productive collaboration between inner-city youth, businesses, and the City to establish goodwill with law enforcement and curb youth-on-youth violence. Safe and inclusive city space is important for African American LGBTQ members as well. Elders in this particularly group are often cautious about seeking aging services due to the discrimination they anticipate. Programs that support ex-offenders’ reentry into communities to reduce recidivism rates are also necessary. In Boston, an organization designed to help ex-offenders develop personal training skills and find decent-paying jobs has assisted several hundred young men. Overall, while local initiatives are important, state and federal officials must bolster these efforts through policy.
8. Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
Globalization has opened foreign sources of large pools of cheap labor for US corporations. Although it makes the production of goods cheaper, it has also had the effect of creating downward pressure in job sectors where African Americans have historically been overrepresented, such as manufacturing. Many African American workers can benefit at home from promoting strong labor standards, environmental regulations, and rights to unionize abroad. Such an investment may protect industries that poor Americans depend upon while also curtailing the flow of poor migrants that the US social services are not prepared for by strengthening their home countries.