Suicide Prevention Week 2013: It’s Time to Talk.

You probably saw the yellow flags in front of the library on Monday. You probably saw the yellow ribbons that were hung around campus. You probably heard about a suicide speaker that came to campus on Wednesday. You might’ve heard about QPR training.

I’m the culprit behind all that stuff.

I happen to be the president of an organization called Active Minds. Our slogan is “Changing the conversation about mental health” and that is exactly what we’re trying to do.

Active Minds is a student-run organization that holds campus-wide events for mental health advocacy. We want to talk about mental health and we want to talk about it in a positive light. We want to stomp out the negative stigma of mental health.

Did you know that one in four adults struggles with some aspect of mental health? That’s 350 students on this campus. And most of them aren’t getting the help that they need. Active Minds is here to talk about it and here to do something about it, and I couldn’t be more blessed to be the president of such a great organization with such caring and compassionate students.

We do monthly programming on a specific mental health issue. Some of our programming comes from Active Minds National Headquarters, which is situated in Washington, D.C. Suicide Prevention Week is a program that we put on every year in September because September is Suicide Prevention Month. (The rest of our programming is what our members feel passionate about and want to see addressed on campus.)

Suicide Prevention Week is pretty much the busiest week of my year, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s a week where I feel like I’m really reaching out to the campus and talking about things that are hard to talk about.

On Monday I woke up at six in the morning. I and two other members of Active Minds stuck 1,100 yellow flags in the ground to commemorate and give a visual representation of the 1,100 college students that die by suicide each year.

1,100 college students.

Embedded image permalink

Field of Flags 2013.

We call this event Field of Flags. We set up a table with Active Minds free stuff on it with a sign explaining what Field of Flags is. We talk about suicide prevention to anyone who stops by. We hand out our free stuff. (Active Minds is the KING of free stuff.) We have pins, silly putty, stickers, magnets, and suicide help packets. We’re out to educate.

On Tuesday night, a bunch of members got together in Newberry Lobby wearing black gear. We were armed with 100 posters that said “YOU ARE NOT ALONE,” 350 yellow ribbons to represent the 350 students on campus who struggle with mental health issues, 15 Active Minds meeting posters, a sheet to hang over the library railing, and rolls of tape.

We spent an hour covering the campus in the posters and ribbons.

Today we had a speaker come to campus to talk about his struggle with suicide and depression. He spoke of the importance of reaching out, of being compassionate, of talking about these issues.

And of course, we had a table of free stuff.

On Thursday we have QPR training, which stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. It’s a gatekeeper training on how to see the signs of suicide. When you see the signs of suicidal tendencies in someone, QPR teaches you how to approach the subject and how to get that person the help that they need. The training is Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Room in the library.

I’m very passionate about Active Minds and it is one of the best things that I do on campus. I do have to plug a little bit: we meet on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. in SAC 104. Meetings are never more than half an hour.

It’s the end of the Suicide Prevention Week 2013. We stuck 1,100 flags in the ground. We want to change that number.

It’s time to start talking.

Pro-Tip: Using Campus Advantages to Your… Well… Advantage

I came to Alma for a number of reasons. My first time on campus was when I was 5 for a homecoming game with my mother, who proudly represents the distinguished class of 1983, back when Saga was actually run by a company called Saga and there was field hockey. My brother represents our last class, 2013, and we went on all of our college trips together. Which means that I went to my first official Alma College Admissions Visit when I was a freshman in high school.

Every time I came on campus, this pretty much happened.

“ALMA HAS THIS! ALMA HAS THAT! IT’S ALL SO WONDERFUL! TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT!”

Most of it was big stuff, like our fantastic Model UN Team, studying abroad, our deep connection with Scotland, and really cool Spring Terms, which my brother and I both took advantage of when he spent a month in Peru and I spent a month in England, Scotland, and Wales.

But there are other little things that Alma has that we should be taking advantage of, too. Smaller things that maybe we don’t think about. So this past week, I spent some time taking advantage of them.

SECURITY ESCORTS, ANYONE?

When I think of security, I think of them in relation to my RA position, which is to call them after hours when something is wrong, like the time my sophomore year that my toilet flooded into my room and soaked my carpet in sewage water. But security does a lot of other cool things besides calling facilities at night when I need them. They offer security escorts.

Last Wednesday I found myself in Mitchell helping a friend at midnight. I ran across campus as quickly as I could with security dialed into my phone in case I ran into trouble, and I didn’t end up leaving Mitchell until 1:30 a.m. I really didn’t want to walk back to South Complex alone at one thirty in the morning, so I dialed security’s easy-to-remember extension, x7777 (or 989-463-7777 from a cell phone), and I asked for a security escort.

Within 10 minutes, a security officer pulled up in what looked like a big bruiser ATV and he told me to climb inside. While we tromped across campus in the ATV, he told me all about his cute grandkids and I told him about my big plans after college that will, hopefully, involve my English major.

So here’s my question: would you rather run across campus alone at night or would you rather ride in a cool ATV type thing with a nice security guard that has cute grandkids to tell you about?

I’d definitely choose the latter.

WHEN YOU NEED A GOOD CRY

Your RA probably pushes Counseling & Wellness on you a lot. Having a bad day? Go to Counseling & Wellness! Miss your cat? Go to Counseling & Wellness! It’s probably drilled into your head by now.

But your RA has a point. Counseling & Wellness is pretty much the bomb. And believe me when I say that there is absolutely no shame in going there whatsoever.

Since I’m allergic to fur, I don’t have a cat that I miss, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t bend my rules and pet the cat in there (and sneeze for three hours later). There’s a Rubik’s cube in the waiting area that I try valiantly to solve, there are magazines, there are all kinds of toys to play with, and best of all, there are trained counselors there equipped to deal with anything and everything.

I go to Counseling & Wellness once a week to supplement the therapist that I have at home. That doesn’t mean that you need to go once a week. You can go once, pet the cat, and talk to any of the counselors about ANYTHING and you’re pretty much guaranteed to feel better. Even if you don’t have anything to talk about, go see the cat. Sit in the Light Room when it’s not sunny outside and get some Vitamin D. Actually solve the Rubik’s cube, which I am incapable of doing.

The best part about the Counseling & Wellness services is that they’re free. You have three counselors at your disposal. For free. Tell me that’s not awesome.

MY FUTURE PLANS HAVE CHANGED

I’m very familiar with plans changing unexpectedly. I used to be in the Teacher Education Program and I no longer am. I no longer want to be a teacher, I’m no longer student teaching, and I have an extra semester of classes to take this winter and a whole host of options that I can pursue. Grad school? Gap year? Fulbright Scholarship? AmeriCorps? SOMETHING?

Luckily enough for me AND for you, there’s a place where you can go to figure out what on earth you want to do with your life, and that place is the Center for Student Opportunity, or the CSO.

I’ll be honest. I haven’t spent much time there yet, but I will definitely be camping out in there making appointments about hunting for grad schools. And that&rsuqo;s not all they do. They help with internships and résumé writing and mock interviews and studying abroad and pretty much any life/professional skill you could want to be considered a Real Adult out in the Adult World. Plus they have free candy.

I went last week for a new program they’re doing called Great Scot where they bring in recent alumni that have done cool stuff. I met with a woman who graduated in 2011 who is currently writing for a high-end magazine and lives in New York City. I networked with her. The CSO is going to be bringing in alumni from all kinds of backgrounds, so no matter what major you have, you’ll have someone you can talk to and network with. They’re even hosting the CareerEXPLO on Friday, Oct. 4, from 3-5 p.m. in the Rec Center where all sorts of amazing Alma alumni will be available to meet, chat, and network.

The CSO isn’t scary. It’s full of awesome people that want to help awesome you do awesome stuff. And as I said, there’s free candy. So get down there, talk to someone, and see what the future holds for you.

NOW WHAT? YOU DECIDE.

Alma has huge resources, but it also has smaller ones that can lead to big things.

What will you do with those resources?

As My Planner Takes Over My Life

Every single year, during the first week of classes, my mother calls me and tells me that I need to e-mail her my schedule so that she knows when to call me. This is important, because my mother, like most mothers, tends to call me at inopportune times.

Like in the middle of class or when I’m running a meeting.

I never know exactly what to tell her. I always e-mail her my class schedule to make sure that she doesn’t call me while I’m learning about the struggle between elite and popular democracy (a struggle that now consumes my every waking thought thanks to my distributive political science class).

But then I stopped to think about it while I looked at my planner; actually sitting in classes is pretty much about… five percent of my time weekly.

That was bad math. But math really isn’t my thing. Writing is. Which is why I’m writing this post and not actually calculating how much of my time is spent in class.

Last week I opened my trusty-dusty planner that I spent a lot of time contemplating at Walmart. I am very picky about my planners. They need to have each month and then individual weeks with ample amount of space per day for me to write stuff in. I can only use one type of pen to write with in said planner, and my planners are normally HUGE because I have very large handwriting.

My planner for my senior year has, so far, been my favorite because it has… lines.

Embedded image permalinkHere is a nice little excerpt from my beautifully lined and somewhat ridiculously full planner, which may or may not control my life.

I take my planner with me everywhere, sometimes even to Saga when I know I’m not going anywhere else later except my room. If I don’t take it with me and check it, I feel like I’ll forget to go to a meeting, I’ll miss a deadline, a homework assignment, a report I was supposed to give, something.

People keep their schedules in their phones. I personally don’t understand it because for me, I have to write things down solidly so I remember them and then I can see what I wrote in my own handwriting. But if you keep stuff in your phone, that’s totally cool.

What I’m trying to get at is this; I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time sitting in SAC being taught English. When I leave class, I spend copious amounts of time in the library. I spend time in my Wright apartment to make myself available to my residents. I run meetings. I go to other meetings that I don’t run in various places like the Chapel and the Rec Center. I have built-in workout times. I wish I had time for naps, but I don’t.

So when my mother called me last week and said, “When’s a good time for me to call you?” I had no idea what to tell her. When she asked me if I’d scheduled my doctor’s appointment, I said that I hadn’t because my schedule wasn’t solidified.

It’s now the second week of classes and my schedule is still not solidified.

Is this a senior thing or an Alma thing? I was tempted to say senior thing, but upon further reflection, I’ve realized that pretty much every year, when I make a color-coded schedule to post outside of my door for my residents so they can find me, I have to change it because something comes up.

Classes are the only stable things in my life right about now. That and the fact that I cart my planner around with me everywhere.

Alma thrives on busy, absolutely thrives. How do we keep track of it all?

It is the second week of classes, and as my RA staff would say, I don’t feel like I have my poop in a group. And if you don’t have your poop in a group either, that’s okay.

We’ll get there. Hopefully together.

Behind the Scenes: Even Before Orientation Week

Welcome back to Alma College for another fresh year of classes, events, games, library crying sessions, and late-night Netflix binges. Hopefully by now you’re all settled in and ready to rock and roll.

I’ve been here for two weeks and I’ll have you know that I do NOT feel settled in at all. Mostly because I can never remember where I put my pot for making Monster University shaped Kraft macaroni and cheese. It’s become a problem.

There were a lot of groups on campus that have been here for two weeks: the marching band, the football team, the cheerleading squad, and countless others.

I don’t take part in any of these prestigious groups. I come to Alma two weeks early because I’m an RA. (I know, I was one last year too, and the year before. Crazy, right?)

I’ve blogged about the RA hiring process, how it’s really fun but really scary, but what actually happens when you become an RA? I mean, when I became an RA my sophomore year, I had no idea what to expect. I went out and bought a bunch of stuff at Target to fill up my double and now I have so much stuff in storage I don’t want to think about it. But what comes after that?

RA training is what comes after that.

I think I could write about RA training for forever, because there’s just so much to write about. Alma has five RA staffs; Newberry, Gelston, Bruske, Mitchell, and South Complex, where I happily reside. Each staff except Gelston has ten members and a Hall Director (Gelston has eight RAs). We all move in on the same day, get to know each other as a whole group of 48 campus leaders, and then we meet with our individual staffs to learn all about each other so we don’t kill each other later in the year.

When I first became an RA, I didn’t realize exactly how close I would become to my RA staff. The nine people that I work with, though they have shuffled in and out over the past three years, are my best friends and my support. They know practically everything about me, and I know practically everything about them. Without the support of the entire RA staff, the residence halls wouldn’t function. And we spend a lot of time at RA training bonding as a staff, particularly at Camp Henry.

At Camp Henry, I spent the day doing team building activities like throwing one of my staff members over a ten foot rope web. We practiced archery, we kayaked together (with lots of kayak tipping and splashing) and we helped each other up a giant 50-foot Jacob’s ladder. I wasn’t afraid of heights until I climbed it. (I also sliced open my foot in the lake, but that’s a different story.)

When we’re not at Camp Henry or having staff time at our Hall Director’s house or having a field day at the zoo, all of the RAs come together in classrooms in Dow and SAC and learn about campus resources and all kinds of things that help us be the best we can be for you guys when you need us. Barbara Otey (’14) and I did a presentation on mental health awareness, we sit through sessions about the CSO and Counseling, Health, & Wellness, and we sit through countless other resource presentations. We learn how to deal with just about anything and everything you can imagine: underage drinking, bats in the hallway (trust me on this one), suicide, depression, roommates that refuse to shower, and illegal flame throwers.

If it can happen on campus, we’ve covered it.

RA training lasts two weeks. We start at eight in the morning and sometimes we go until midnight, shuffling from presentation to presentation, learning everything we can, brushing up on new and old skills, and we still manage to have fun. Like this year when one of the presenters was late, we watched videos of screaming goats. Sometimes RA training is exhausting. We have really heavy presentations and activities that force us to be uncomfortable and to take a good look at ourselves and our campus diversity.

But it’s always good when we can watch videos of screaming goats in Dow.

Unless you live in small housing or an off-campus apartment or you commute, chances are you have an RA down the hall from you somewhere. RAs are not just scary people that enforce rules, RAs are students that genuinely care about you and want you to have the best college experience that you can have. Even if you don’t have an RA because you live off-campus, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go to an RA with a problem. We’re students too, and I promise you that if we didn’t genuinely care about you and your college experience, we could never get through two weeks of intense training.

Training is intense. It’s exhausting. But I know that I have my staff that I can turn to. And after all this training, I hope that you can turn to me and other RAs when you need us.

Welcome back for another year at Alma, and don’t be afraid to knock on a Resident Advisor’s door. You’ll be glad you did.

The Library is the Place

It wouldn’t be finals week if I wasn’t blogging instead of writing a paper.

My carrel, which I often call Procrastination Station, has been very active these past two weeks. Sometimes I feel that more has happened there than at Saga, which is saying something, because a lot of interesting things happen at Saga. Like the time that my friend Matt brought me a Dr. Pepper with twenty straws in it when I asked him for one. Somewhere on the Internet is a picture of me attempting to drink a Dr. Pepper through twenty straws at the same time.

When I was a freshman, I was told by numerous people that my junior year was going to be difficult. I instantly referred back to high school in which my junior year was difficult, but it was a great year. Junior year in high school was the best of both worlds; you were an upperclassman taking all the cool classes, but you didn’t have to worry about doing senior stuff. Like applying to colleges. It was golden.

Junior year at Alma has been almost the same way; I’m thoroughly enjoying upperclassmen status and reveling in the fact that I don’t have to do awkward senior things. My brother has been constantly talking about picking up his cap and gown at College Corner. I’m one of those people that would completely forget about it and then show up to commencement without the proper attire.

So when they told me that being a junior was going to suck, I didn’t really believe them.

I should have. Two upper level lit classes and an upper level education class have slowly been sucking away my soul.

My hell week (which did involve Simba going everywhere with me) and my finals week stacked up something like this.

Three 8-10 page papers. Two full-blown exams. Three education projects. One presentation. One gigantic choir concert, otherwise known as Masterworks.

I diligently holed myself up at Procrastination Station and got to work.

Last week, I managed to write a final draft of my first 8-10 page paper and turn it in with a flourish. But it wasn’t without a struggle. Being on crutches and unable to carry books, I enlisted my friend Adam to help me collect books about an old dead white guy from England named John Donne that wrote poetry in the 1500′s.

As someone who has had a carrel for two years in a row (and the same carrel to boot) I understand that books must either be checked out to my carrel or reshelved after 24 hours. I already had a bunch of books for my paper on Frankenstein that were sitting on my carrel shelf with a brightly colored reshelving notice. Now I had a huge pile of John Donne books on top of that. Instead of trying to figure out a way to carry them down to the circulation desk by myself without hands, I wrote the library staff a very eloquent plea that in short, went something like this: “Hey library staff, I’m on crutches and writing a huge paper, can I keep these until Wednesday?”

I promise, it was much more eloquent.

The day that I set off to write my John Donne paper, I found that my entire carrel had been rearranged; all of my folders were neatly stacked, my loose papers had been piled, and even my sticky note to-do list was organized. My John Donne books, all of them, had been hidden expertly by my critical theory book and my education folder. And what I found was a note.

The note says, “Emily, in order to avoid troubles with the library bureaucracy, hide your books as demonstrated! Throw the white and pink slips away and carry on breaking carrel law. Good luck, The Library Defender of the Weak.”

I had made a new friend.

When I came back from dinner, after spoiling all of the organization that my new library friend had worked on, I found another jewel waiting for me amidst my sticky notes.

Yes, my carrel very well represents my life: completely not put together.  (Also, there is a picture on my carrel that says vagina. You weren’t just seeing that. It’s actually there.)

You know those people that always have their stuff together and you just know that they’re going to go out into the world and get great jobs and do great things?

I am not one of those people.

I managed to get my John Donne paper cranked out by one in the morning, right when the library closed. I was so excited that I took this picture.

This is what one in the morning eight page paper euphoria looks like.

As of right now, I have two papers left and two exams. I will still be living at Procrastination Station, where odd things are still bound to happen, such as nice notes from library defenders, awkward pictures of myself and my finished papers at one in the morning, and sketches of fancy cats from Adam.

Procrastination Station welcomes you. Stop by. I’m pretty much guaranteed to be there.

And of course, good luck with finals. Just remember, your value as a person has nothing to do with grades. You should probably still study, though.

I’ll leave you with a picture of my carrel in all of its glory.