Time to Reflect

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.


Thank You, GreenStar Family

The Sophie Fund is proud to be a recipient in GreenStar Natural Food Market’s “Bring Your Own Bag, Use it for Good” donations program. Last week, GreenStar delivered a check to The Sophie Fund for $290.10—the result of $0.05 donations by 5,802 GreenStar customers.


GreenStar’s support for The Sophie Fund’s work for improved youth mental health in the Ithaca community doesn’t stop there. The coop is the prime sponsor of the Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund each October. GreenStar also welcomed Cornell University and Ithaca College students into its stores last fall to collect donations supporting mental health in Tompkins County. The students raised a total of $829.50, which was presented to the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service last month.

Established in 2014, the Bring Your Own Bag, Use it For Good program has raised more than $10,000 for local nonprofits ranging from the SPCA of Tompkins County to the Cayuga Nature Center. The program, which gives customers a 5-cent donation token for providing their own grocery bags, has also spared the environment some 230,000 carrier sacks.

Thank you, GreenStar family!

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Money, Power, and Sexual Assault (Part 2)

In 2016 and 2017, two of the country’s most powerful conservatives—Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News—were shown the door for sexual harassment of female subordinates. This week—thanks in part to the willingness of harassment victims to speak out—it’s the turn of one of America’s most influential liberals: Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.


An investigation by the New York Times—whose reporting last April led to O’Reilly’s precipitous downfall—revealed sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades. After being confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact, the newspaper reported, Weinstein reached at least eight settlements with women.

According to the Times:

In interviews, eight women described varying behavior by Mr. Weinstein: appearing nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed or repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself. The women, typically in their early or middle 20s and hoping to get a toehold in the film industry, said he could switch course quickly—meetings and clipboards one moment, intimate comments the next.

In a statement to the Times, Weinstein apologized for his behavior: “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”

Meanwhile, the board of the Weinstein Company—known for such films as Django Unchained, The King’s Speech, and Silver Linings Playbook—announced that Weinstein was taking an indefinite leave of absence; one-third of the board had immediately resigned amid the allegations of rampant sexual harassment by the company’s co-chairman.

The Times story cites a multi-page 2015 memo to company executives by Weinstein employee Lauren O’Connor, which detailed sexual harassment she and other women experienced at the hands of their boss. She wrote:

“There is a toxic environment for women at this company. I am a professional and have tried to be professional. I am not treated that way however. I am sexualized and diminished.

“I am a 28-year old-woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64-year-old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.

“I am just starting out in my career, and have been and remain fearful about speaking up. But remaining silent is causing me great distress.”

Following a settlement with Weinstein, the Times reported, O’Connor withdrew her complaint six days after sending her memo.

Weinstein is known as a champion of liberal causes, and a donor to Democratic Party candidates. Former President Barack Obama’s eldest daughter Malia interned at the Weinstein Company last summer. Weinstein recently helped endow a faculty chair at Rutgers University in the name of feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

The combined force of power and money was evident in Hollywood’s deafening silence after the scandal broke:

In the wake of the blockbuster Times exposé, The Daily Beast reached out to dozens of prominent actors, actresses, and filmmakers—who both have and have not worked with Weinstein—only to receive many replies of “no comment” and plenty of radio silence.

“Nauseating, chicken-hearted enablers all—all the people who knew and said nothing—and those who are STILL staying silent,” TV personality/writer/chef Anthony Bourdain, one of the few celebrities who did speak out, tweeted in response to the Beast story. Bourdain, who made clear he was not referring to Weinstein’s victims, has 6.45 million Twitter followers.


“Harvey Weinstein Is Fired After Sexual Harassment Reports” (New York Times headline, October 8, 2017).

The Weinstein Company fired its co-founder Harvey Weinstein on Sunday, after a New York Times investigation uncovered allegations that he had engaged in rampant sexual harassment, dealing a stunning blow to a producer known for shaping American film and championing liberal causes.


We Can All Prevent Suicide

September is Suicide Prevention Month all around the world. Click here and take a few minutes to review one of the best resources out there—the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


We can all prevent suicide, and the Lifeline provides tools for recognizing risk factors and warning signs in yourself and in others. It also operates a critical 24/7 hotline at 1-800-273-8255 to find support for yourself or others.

As the Lifeline puts it:

Suicide is not inevitable for anyone. By starting the conversation, providing support, and directing help to those who need it, we can prevent suicides and save lives.

Evidence shows that providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm, and following up with loved ones are just some of the actions we can all take to help others.

By offering immediate counseling to everyone that may need it, local crisis centers provide invaluable support at critical times and connect individuals to local services.

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]



Military Suicides: Understanding “Moral Injury”

As America commemorates Memorial Day honoring those who gave their lives for their country, let us recognize the tragedy of military suicides among active duty soldiers and veterans.


In 2014, 273 U.S. servicemen died by suicide compared to 58 killed in action in Afghanistan (55) and Iraq (3). And 7,403 vets took their own lives in 2014—18 percent of all adult suicides in the United States—according to the Veteran’s Administration. A factor receiving increasing attention in military suicides is known as moral injury.

Military service by definition is fraught with moral quandaries, from whether a particular war is “just” or an individual action within a “just” war is morally right. Psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, a specialist in combat trauma who has studied Vietnam veterans, says moral injury “is present when there has been a betrayal of “what’s right,” either by a person in legitimate authority or by one’s self, in a high stakes situation.” Both forms of moral injury impair the capacity for trust and elevate despair, suicidality, and interpersonal violence, Shay says.

Laura Greenstein of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) illustrates the dilemma:

Imagine you are a young soldier leading your unit on a foot patrol in an Afghan village. One moment your environment is peaceful, the next your unit hears a loud explosion and you realize you are taking fire from the enemy. You find a secure position to radio your overhead observer, to determine where the threat is originating. It’s your job to take out the enemy before any soldiers or innocent civilians are harmed. Your overhead observer gives you the location and describes the enemy for you: an 11-year-old Afghan boy who is firing at your unit with a machine gun. At this point, you are ordered to take out the enemy. You follow the orders to save your soldiers and the innocent civilians in the village.

Six months later, you finished your deployment and are welcomed home by your friends and family. You begin to remember many of the experiences from your deployment, several you wish you could forget—including the day with the 11-year-old boy. This experience has made you question who you are, the morality you believe you had and causes you to worry that people may view you differently.

Writing in The Conversation, Holly Arrow and William M. Schumacher explain how mental health treatment and positive social interactions can help the healing:

Preliminary evidence suggests that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) modified to treat issues related to moral injury can reduce depression as well as guilt- and shame-related thoughts. Treatment can come in other forms, as well. Psychotherapist Edward Tick, for example, organizes trips to Vietnam for U.S. veterans to meet their Vietnamese counterparts, for the healing of decades-long wounds.

However, we don’t need to be trained therapists to make a difference. Everyday social connections can also help the morally injured heal. In his dissertation, the second author of this article conducted a series of interviews with veterans exposed to potentially morally injurious events and found consistent differences between those with higher levels of depression and suicidal thoughts and those with fewer symptoms. Veterans who weren’t doing so well felt isolated and lacked support by friends, by family and by peers. Veterans with few symptoms felt supported by family, friends, peers and by their community. That’s the rest of us.

When we discover that someone has a military background, replacing the perfunctory “Thank you for your service” (which rarely leads to a meaningful exchange) with questions that start a conversation can create a new connection. The hopes, dreams, insecurities and mistakes of those who have served may be somewhat different based on their military background; many won’t be different at all.

Photo: Airmen of the 374th Security Forces Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 15, 2017. Airman 1st Class Donald Hudson/U.S. Air Force

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

[Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.]

[Visit the NAMI Veterans and Active Duty page for treatment resources, disclosure, and staying healthy during the transition to civilian life.]