The Mental Health Summit: BOSSy Womxn at Work

Do you believe mentorship is important? Do you have a passion for community service? Do you think mental health is a crucial topic? Well, if you answered yes to any of these questions you might be interested to learn more about a Cornell University-affiliated organization called Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.).

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B.O.S.S. is a student-run peer mentorship program designed for womxn of color by womxn of color. Every year we pair underclassmen with upperclassmen womxn of color and facilitate these relationships through service events and fun activities. This program was bred out of a desire to help womxn of color become more socially mobile. Additionally, this program aims to equip underclassmen with a mentor who has already been where they are and can provide helpful insights and advice.

Attending a predominantly white institution (PWI) presents many stressors for womxn of color. Taking this context into account, particularly at Cornell, it is especially important to carve out spaces for womxn of color to not only exist, but also thrive. The hardships womxn of color face are distinct from our male counterparts. We operate under the societal stressors of gender, race, and often class (just to name three). Taking all these factors into account, B.O.S.S. is fostering coalition building between womxn of color to strengthen our social, academic, and professional prospects.

B.O.S.S. once existed as a subset program within the Black Women’s Support Network (B.W.S.N.). The decision to branch out was led by Stephanie Carter and Sarah Edwards; two chartering members of the B.O.S.S. executive board. Their vision to make B.O.S.S. a program inclusive of all womxn of color as a means to coalition build revolutionized our mission, goals, and approach. Evelyn Ambriz, our former advisor, also played a crucial role in changing the face of B.O.S.S. To this day we operate in the vein of coalition building between womxn of color.

The name B.O.S.S. was chosen to acknowledge the nuances of the oppression womxn of color face in professional settings. Womxn in positions of power are generally deemed to be bossy, overbearing, rude, and shrill. Men will often be praised as assertive, commanding, respectable, and strong for the same approaches to leadership. In naming this organization B.O.S.S., we’re reclaiming bossy as something positive and empowering. Womxn should be bossy! Especially in spaces where we are often in the minority and have to work twice as hard to achieve half as much as our more privileged counterparts.

In November for the fourth consecutive year we are hosting the Mental Health Summit, our marquee event. The intent of the summit is to have conversations about mental health that are catered toward womxn of color. We recognize that mental health is a stigmatized topic of conversation. By facilitating open and honest dialogue about our struggles, we hope to chip away at that stigma. By collaborating with different faculty, departments, resource centers, and groups both on and off campus, we’re able to craft workshops that provide probing and interactive dialogue around mental health.

This year our theme for the summit is: “The ‘I’ of the Storm: Finding Calm Amongst the Chaos.” We’re placing an explicit focus on the ways womxn of color often exert themselves for their communities. In this summit we propose tools to prioritize the self even in the midst of police brutality, injustice, and continual general inequality.

We have curated an exciting group of workshops that address many provocative, taboo questions and topics that we often don’t discuss in communities of color.

We are absolutely thrilled to announce that the summit’s keynote speaker this year is a latina woman named Dior Vargas, an exceptional mental health activist who has been recognized in the Guardian, Forbes, Newsweek, and NBC New Latino for her contributions to mental health awareness. She regularly tours the country to host workshops, sit on panels, and give keynote addresses. Her presence and contributions will undoubtedly communicate profound messages to our attendees that they won’t forget anytime soon.

This year we are expanding the traditionally one-day summit into a three-day event from November 9-11. We’re collaborating with other colleges in the Finger Lakes region to extend the dialogue beyond the bounds of Cornell. For folks coming from different cities, we will be providing free housing accomodations in collaboration with CU Image. Registration will go live on our website in early October: https://bebossycornell.wixsite.com/boss. Food will be provided throughout the weekend. Additionally, the summit will be open to the Ithaca community. And most importantly, it’s free for all attendees!

If you have any questions or inquiries, please feel free to direct them to bebossy.cornell@gmail.com. Additionally, if you want to learn more about us and the team please visit our website at https://bebossycornell.wixsite.com/boss.

A special thank you to The Sophie Fund for all their incredible support. We’re proud to be working with an organization that values mental health just as much as we do!

—By Raven Schwam-Curtis

Raven Schwam-Curtis is a junior in Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences double majoring in Asian Studies and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies. She is the co-chair of Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.), and has served on its executive board since her freshman year.

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Please Consider Making a Donation

In order to make this free event a reality, we need your help to raise money! Our crowdfunding campaign ends September 14th at 12:00AM EST. We have just a few days left in our crowdfunding campaign to reach our goal of $7,000. If you have even just have a few dollars to spare, we would greatly appreciate any donation. Please visit our crowdfunding page at https://crowdfunding.cornell.edu/project/10131/wall to make a gift today. Let’s make this event as spectacular as possible!

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 Mental Health Summit Program

Friday, November 9

6­–7 p.m.: Check in and Registration

7–7:30 p.m.: Family Groups and Icebreakers

8–9 pm: Dinner (pizza with vegetarian and vegan options)

9–10:30 p.m.: Midnight Yoga hosted by the Cornell Fitness Center

Saturday, November 10

9–10 a.m.: Registration & Breakfast (served until 10 a.m.)

10–10:15 a.m.: Executive board address

10:15–10:45 a.m.: Superwomxn takes a seat

  • How would you define the superwomxn complex?
  • Why does it exist?
  • How can we feel like we are good enough without having to do it all?
  • Anxiety and societal pressures around the superwomxn complex

11–11:45 a.m.: Workshops (occuring simultaneously)

1) Transitioning into College

  • Culture shock, new independence, large class sizes, social adjustment, navigating new spaces, finding a role on campus, academic adjustment (competitive nature of Cornell), manifesting your confidence, balancing self-praise and humbleness
  • Tools to address these concerns

2) Student Activism and Mental Health

  • Exhausting pressure to attend ALL activist gatherings linked to social identities
  • What does it mean to be an activist? And understanding your version of activism
  • Campus climate – dealing with administration and politics as womxn of color (being loud versus being heard)
  • Tools to address these concerns

3) Imposter Syndrome

  • Being at a PWI, manifesting in your own lane, what’s for you is for you, comparisons, the competitive nature of college, worthiness in collegiate settings, everyone isn’t on a level playing field, the pressure to achieve from yourself and from family, failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure, toot your own horn
  • Tools to address these concerns

12–12:45 p.m.: Lunch

1–2 p.m.: Workshops (occurring simultaneously)

  • Talking with family/professionals about mental health
  • How do you address mental health with families that don’t acknowledge it? How do you overcome that fear of talking to family/professionals?

2) Flirtatitionships/Relationships in college and sexual assault

  • Being mindful of how spending excess time with a partner can impact you
  • Mental abuse in relationships//power dynamics
  • Determining when enough is ENOUGH
  • Trying to keep your private life private in small, often close knit communities of color

3) Body Image

  • Expectations for our bodies and subsequent eating disorders that may arise. How do we recognize and address it in ourselves and friends?
  • Self perception and colorism
  • Roots of body image perceptions

2–3 p.m.: Keynote Address by Dior Vargas

3–3:15 p.m.: Snack break

3:15–4 p.m.: Workshops (occurring simultaneously)

1) How do I help a friend with…

  • Struggles with health, abusive relationships, resources with limited money, etc…

2) Depression in college

  • Navigating mental health services as a womxn of color
  • How to talk to your professors about mental health concerns without oversharing

3) Living intentionally

  • Learning about yourself, finding yourself in college and taking risks despite community, familial, and more pressures
  • Being your own best friends – being gentle with yourself

4–6 p.m.: Dinner

6–7 p.m.: Snacks and Study with BOSS/Reflective Time

7–9 p.m.: Late Night Vision Boards

9 p.m.–2 a.m.: Free time or optional movie night

Sunday, November 11

10–12:30 p.m.: Brunch