Support Student-to-Student Mental Health at Cornell University

Our country is experiencing a growing mental health crisis, one that is seriously affecting college students at a vulnerable transitional stage in their lives. More than 40 percent of college students surveyed said they “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function,” and 11.3 percent seriously considered suicide, according to the 2018 National College Health Assessment.

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Cornell students attending a Reflect dinner

As college administrations everywhere struggle to meet the demands for mental health services, students themselves are stepping up to support one another. Empowering students amid their struggles is an essential way of helping them fulfill their meaningful life journeys.

In this season of giving, The Sophie Fund invites its friends and supporters to consider a donation before the end of 2019 to The Reflect Organization, a nonprofit innovator in student wellness that is making a difference on the campus of Cornell University and several others.

To make a donation, go to: http://www.reflecteffect.org/donate

The timing is crucial: a generous anonymous donor has pledged to match all donations up to $100,000 made by a deadline of December 31. As of today, Reflect has raised $84,000 of the $100,000 target.

Reflect is the brainchild of Jared Fenton, who launched the organization in 2015 after one of his classmates at the University of Pennsylvania took her own life. Fenton believes that students can support each other by speaking openly and honestly about their mental health. To provide a space for that to happen, Reflect sponsors monthly dinners as well as mental health programs and trainings that are creating a culture of authenticity, self-love, and allyship on campus.

After graduating from Penn in 2016, Fenton began responding to requests to launch Reflect chapters on other campuses—so far, they are up and running at Cornell, Columbia University, Barnard College, Queens College, and La Salle University.

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Jared Fenton, founder of The Reflect Organization

Cornell students attending Reflect’s programs—and there are hundreds of them—report better connections with other students, more willingness to discuss personal mental health issues, and greater readiness to seek help when needed.

“One of the most empowering things about Cornell Reflect is that students are able to help their peers just by being open,” says Talia Ostrow ’20. “We are changing the campus climate to one of openness all on our own.”

Reaching the campaign target of $100,000, doubled to $200,000 through the matching donation from Reflect’s anonymous supporter, will enable Reflect to take its work to a new level. This $200,000 will make possible an expansion in Cornell Reflect’s training and outreach efforts, enabling the program to serve a wider range of students, more effectively. It also will help facilitate Reflect’s planned growth to serve students on even more campuses.

Make a donation before December 31 by clicking the link:

www.reflecteffect.org/donate

Sexual Assault Survivors and Allies

Hope Gardner, a junior at Ithaca College, found herself spiraling downward after being sexually assaulted in 2018. She could hardly eat or sleep for days. But she soon turned her personal traumatic experience into a passionate cause: to change the conversation around sexual assault on the Ithaca College campus and in the wider Ithaca community.

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Sydney Muraoka, Hope Gardner, and Sobeida Rosa

Gardner, along with the support of colleagues and encouragement of friends, established IC Strike, a student organization that seeks justice for assault survivors and provides them with tangible support. The group is on a mission to empower assault victims and break the stigma around the issue.

“I was failed by the justice system and was feeling very helpless,” Gardner said in an interview about her inspiration for launching IC Strike. “I was frustrated by the lack of resources. I felt like I needed to find some sort of action that I could do in order to continue healing, so I approached a couple of friends with my idea for this organization and was immediately met with widespread support and interest from everyone I talked to.”

Gardner is president of IC Strike. Alongside Vice President Sydney Muraoka, and Treasurer Sobeida Rosa, she is building the organization by creating a network of survivors and allies. IC Strike carried out numerous programs and fundraisers in the fall 2019 semester. It sponsored a talk by Associate Professor Paula Ioanide on alternative forms of justice for survivors of assault. On December 11, it hosted an end of semester banquet to present funds and toiletries the group collected in support of the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, an organization that aids sexual assault and domestic violence victims.

“My goal is that IC Strike will change the narrative on campus about sexual assault survivorship and allyship, helping survivors to regain a sense of agency,” Gardner explained. “My hope is that we will create a brave space where we can challenge the status quo, the stigma, and the belief that survivors need to be quiet about their experiences.”

Gardner believes that the space created by IC Strike can be helpful for survivors as they process the trauma of their assault.

“It can affect your self-image, your ability to be intimate, and how you live your day to day life,” she said. “I was barely able to eat or sleep for days. I found myself in a downward spiral due to PTSD, anxiety, depression. The effects of assault do not go away once the attack is over, and it’s vital that we offer support and resources for survivors, helping them however we can in adjusting to their new normal.”

For Muraoka, challenging the status quo includes reforming Ithaca College’s judicial system for handling sexual assault cases according to federal law. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 protects students from sexual harassment and violence and requires schools to handle assault allegations.

Gardner commented that many students believe the judicial system at IC is severely lacking and in turn re-traumatizing for victims while yielding few positive results. This can be extremely damaging to students’ physical and mental health, she said.

“I know people who have had to switch out of courses that are vital to their majors because the person who assaulted them was in that same class,” she said. “Not feeling safe on campus can have an incredibly negative affect on survivors’ mental and physical well-being, as well as academic performance.”

Gardner and Muraoka are hopeful. They have confidence in Linda Koenig, Ithaca College’s Title IX coordinator, who they believe goes “above and beyond” for students. They are closely watching the administration’s actions to hire a new assistant director for Judicial Affairs, who chairs Conduct Review Boards for cases of alleged sexual misconduct and serves as a member of the Title IX SHARE Advisory Committee and Policy, Procedure, and Practice Committee.

“We need someone who knows Title IX and has proper training in areas such as dealing with victims of trauma, including sexual assaults and domestic violence,” said Muraoka. “We hope to help see things improve for students that come forward in the future.

Campus rape and domestic violence cases steadily increased from 2016, according to the Ithaca College Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report released in October. Reported rape cases on campus rose from eight in 2016 and 11 in 2017 to 13 in 2018.

A 2017 Campus Climate Research Study survey of students, faculty, and staff reported that 15 percent of respondents experienced “unwanted sexual conduct,” and 3 percent experienced “unwanted sexual contact” defined as rape, assault, or fondling.

Lara Hamburger, Campus Educator at the Advocacy Center, commended IC Strike’s work.

“Groups like IC Strike create space for survivors and allies to create meaningful change on their campus and beyond,” Hamburger said. “They create an environment where folks can speak out against violence while having a real impact on their community.”

She added: “While still a very new club at Ithaca College, IC Strike has already done great work. They’ve shown their solidarity to survivors in the community by organizing a toiletries drive for the Advocacy Center, and raised funds for our organization. Groups like these have great symbolic value as well. They serve to break the silence and isolation around these issues, and take a public stand so that their classmates and colleagues know that sexual violence won’t be tolerated on their campus.”

—By Meredith Nash

Meredith Nash is a senior Writing major at Ithaca College and an intern at The Sophie Fund