About the Steve Fund: Promoting the Mental Health and Emotional Well-being of Young People of Color

Stephen C. Rose

Stephen C. Rose

Right at this moment, there are students of color who are failing academically, suffering emotionally and in some cases facing serious risk, because population-specific factors influencing mental health are too poorly understood and not acted upon.

The Steve Fund (TSF) is the nation’s only organization focused on supporting the mental health and emotional well-being of college students of color.

The Steve Fund works with colleges and universities, outstanding non-profits, researchers, practitioners, and with  groups serving diverse populations to stimulate dialogue and promote effective programs and strategies that build understanding and assistance for the mental and emotional health of  the nation’s students of color as they enter, matriculate in, and transition from higher education.

Experts underscore that a perilous mix of factors can pose mental health risks for students of color requiring well-developed responses from colleges and universities. These factors may include culturally-unrepresentative campus environments; perceived and experienced racial discrimination; micro-aggressions; social stigma; being marginalized, and unwieldy transitions from home to campus. Researchers from the University of Michigan note a higher prevalence of depression among students of color as compared to white students. They say that disparities in college persistence and mental health may be interrelated. They also demonstrate that among college students, the discrepancy between the need for treatment and actual treatment utilization is more marked for students of color. They raise concerns about a cultural mismatch of providers and possible discrimination in treatment settings (biases, stereotyping, etc.).

Recent research by faculty at the University of Virginia finds that black students report they typically experience at least one bias incident within 60 days of enrollment, and each incident contributes to a potent distress that remains through their matriculation.  Research by faculty at William Patterson College reports that negative impacts of micro-aggressions on students of color have emotional, physical, and academic costs resulting in disconnection and disengagement from school, weakened social networks and erosion of academic self-concept. This impacts students’ academic achievement and overall well-being.  Researchers at the University of Texas/Austin link perceived discrimination by students of color to feelings of “imposterism.” This research team found that such feelings are related to increases in reported depression and anxiety in college students of color.

Though some colleges have mounted individual programs, on balance, higher education’s responses are neither well-established nor well-studied. There is insufficient communication across efforts, and most are not documented or evaluated.  Yet few would disagree that it is a primary responsibility of colleges and universities to not only cultivate the academic talent of all of our nation’s future leaders, but to support their mental health and emotional well-being.  More than other institutions in our society, colleges and universities have the ability and resource base to build and share knowledge that advances best practices to promote the mental health of young people of color—both within the education sector and beyond.

The Steve Fund seeks to address a harmful deficit in effective, broadly-adopted knowledge and programming by 1) identifying and sharing relevant research with critical stakeholders; 2) partnering to design and implement programs that promote the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color in transition to, through, and from college; and 3) communicating strategically to build awareness of relevant challenges and solutions. This is a long overdue moral imperative, with considerable implications for individuals, their families, and society at large.