Clark Atrium was abuzz. The chatter of students fostering true connections created a steady hum throughout the building. I cannot adequately describe how excited I was during the Cornell chapter of The Reflect Organization’s final meeting of the fall semester in December. We had over 170 students in attendance, eating dinner together and openly discussing their lives in peer-to-peer groups that covered topics from school to stress to relationships and more.
Reflect at Cornell Co-President Jack Burger (’19) and Treasurer Don Moore (’20) on the Arts Quad
This was double the number of students who showed up for our first meeting in October. But the most rewarding part was the amazing feedback. One of my friends who came on a whim found me as I was cleaning up. “I never thought I’d like this sort of thing,” Darren told me. “But now that I’ve done it, I want to keep coming.” He later asked how he could get even more involved in supporting college students’ mental health through a leadership position with Reflect at Cornell. Now that is the kind of response that really gets me going.
Reflect is a national nonprofit dedicated to improving the mental health of students and de-stigmatizing mental health care. Jared Fenton began Reflect as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania in 2015 following the suicide of his Penn classmate, Madison Holleran. Maddie Feldman and I launched Reflect at Cornell, and became its first co-presidents, at the start of the 2017–18 academic year after seeing how mental health issues were plaguing our campus.
Students at Cornell are known to exhibit Duck Syndrome—you act like everything is alright even though things are tumultuous beneath the surface, like a duck gliding smoothly across the water while actually paddling furiously below. With the heavy demand for appointments at Cornell Health’s Counseling & Psychological Services, and the long wait times involved, it becomes very hard for students to find a place on campus where they feel they can be their true selves. Despite outward appearances, loneliness abounds. The American College Health Association says that more than 60 percent of college students report feeling “very isolated.”
At Reflect, we’re determined to do something about this. We provide students with an opportunity to take off their social media masks and share what’s really going on in their lives. By making it cool to attend a Reflect dinner—and we dish up some pretty tasty pizza (and other meals, depending on the month)—we are striving to facilitate true connections that relieve the isolation.
The response on campus has been inspiring. Hundreds of students have embraced Reflect’s message of openness, honesty, and mutual support. At our dinners, students are engaging in real conversations, and exchanging contact information to meet up later and continue them. Cornell media has taken note of the movement, featuring Reflect at Cornell in the Cornell Daily Sun, Slope Media, and the Dyson Business Feed.
It’s encouraging to see how Reflect has grown from a few dozen Penn students just three years ago to enriching the lives of students at a growing number of other universities across the country. That’s empowering. Here at Cornell, we’re down for another semester and more of making connections, having open conversations, and working on our mental health together. And we’ll continue to serve some pretty good pizza, too!
—By Jack Burger
Jack Burger (’19) is co-president of Reflect at Cornell
Next Reflect at Cornell meeting: 5 p.m., Monday, February 5, Clark Atrium of the Physical Sciences Building.