“Your mission is becoming more urgent and important.” This is something we heard often in the beginning of 2016. At that time, every day, the media were full of reports about increasing tensions and protests, on campuses around the nation. Experts were beginning to warn about the mental health toll on young people of color who are exposed to this drumbeat of unsettling news.
“Your mission has just become so much more urgent and important,” we kept hearing again eleven months later, on November 11, 2016. We were at “Young, Gifted & @Risk”, the Steve Fund’s third annual national conference focused on supporting the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color taking place at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. The elections were over. And the media were full of reports about acts targeting communities of color, by individuals and groups who felt emboldened to say and do what seemed unacceptable in 21st-Century America until not too long ago.
Back in 2015, we didn’t create the Steve Fund because of developments on campus. We did not create it because of a general increase in ethnic tensions. But both these developments happened to intensify in 2016, our first year of “full operations”, if you will. We began the Steve Fund with a sense of urgency born of personal experience. But it is probably fair to say that these recent development have increased the urgency, for the people we serve, for our supporters, and for the Steve Fund.
If you are taking the time to read this, you are probably interested in and care about the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color. For this we thank you. If you have supported the Steve Fund’s work, whether financially or in other ways, we thank you. We thank you for everything you do to support this cause, whether through the Steve Fund, or through other channels available to you. It is important. And it is urgent. Thank you, so much!
The issue of students of color and their mental health and emotional well-being has been surging in the national discourse over the last year. Whether it is an edition of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Atlantic or The New Yorker, there is a good chance you will find an article containing terms such as “microaggression”, “impostor syndrome”, “safe space” or “trigger warning.” This simply was not the case just a short while ago.
While this increased media attention generally is a positive thing, not all of it is positive. For instance, some universities have intentionally disavowed the thinking behind “safe spaces,” suggesting it is in conflict with a commitment to rigorous debate. At the Steve Fund, we believe this is a false equivalency. Some op-ed pieces in national publications poke fun at these serious issues. And just take a look at the often vitriolic reader comments that accompany the articles, and you get a sense of how much work there is to do.
Here are some highlights of the work the Steve Fund accomplished this year (the links in the parentheses offer more information about each item):
- The JED Foundation and the Steve Fund are collaborating on a framework of evidence-informed recommended practices for improving support for the mental health of students of color on college and university campuses. The project includes a Nielsen study with 1,000 college and university students. The results will be rolled out nationally in early 2017. (mentalhealthframework.org)
- A partnership with Crisis Text Line, an online crisis support service, and with the Knight Foundation now enables students of color to text the keyword “Steve” to 741741 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor. The Steve Fund also worked with Crisis Text Line to refine its training curriculum for counselors with regard to supporting the mental health of students of color. (http://bit.ly/2hW5EEP)
- Three notable U.S. mental health associations have administered six Steve Fund scholarships to young scholars to research psychological challenges confronting their respective populations. (http://bit.ly/2hWfZRl)
- Members of the newly formed Steve Fund Youth Advisory Board advise the fund and promote the importance of education about mental health and emotional well-being on college and university campuses and within their respective communities. (http://bit.ly/2hIXfSa)
- The first-of-its-kind, online Knowledge Center with expert information related to the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color is now available free of charge at www.stevefund.org/knowledgecenter.
- In partnership with the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, the Steve Fund brought together more than 250 leaders in mental health and higher education for the third annual Young, Gifted & @Risk Conference on November 11. More than ten hours of expert knowledge coming out of the conference will be added to the Steve Fund Knowledge Center. (http://bit.ly/2eZMZq4)
- A three-part Webinar series specifically aimed at families of students of color, discusses topics ranging from the unique pressures and challenges faced by students of color, to potential strategies for positive change. (http://bit.ly/2gP9RFf)
- We worked with partners such as Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), the NAACP, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow as part of the Steve Fund’s efforts to bring mental health programming to organizations serving people of color. (http://bit.ly/2hfqtaa)
- The social micro blogging platform Tumblr (550 million monthly users) chose the Steve Fund as one of three charitable partner organizations for its Mental Health Quilt project. The quilt is a collaboration between Tumblr and the City of New York. (http://bit.ly/2hfnI8W)
- Articles in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Atlantic, Inside Higher Ed, Slate Magazine, Black Enterprise Magazine, and Onyx reported on the Steve Fund’s work. (http://stevefund.org/news)
We are excited about the promises of 2017. We expect to recruit our first executive director in early 2017, taking the fund’s work to the next level of impact (http://bit.ly/2hNHcSM). We are also excited about the above-mentioned framework of recommendations we are developing together with the Jed Foundation. This “Equal Chance at Mental Health Framework” will be highly actionable, with ten concise expert recommendations at its core that colleges and universities can implement to improve the support for the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color on their campuses. We are convening a special higher education summit on February 13 in New York, to obtain input and advice on the draft framework from leaders at U.S. colleges and universities. We are targeting the beginning of April to roll out the finalized framework with an extensive media campaign. We expect a high level of interest by the media and by our targeted audiences, especially by leaders of colleges and universities. Most importantly, we expect for this framework to have a real impact on what colleges and universities do to better support the mental health and emotional well-being of their students of color.
Once more, thank you for your interest and for your support. Please visit stevefund.org/updates to subscribe to the Steve Fund’s newsletter (it comes to your inbox once every three months). And, of course, there is always stevefund.org/donate…
Last but not least, I’d like to once more say “741741”. This is the above-mentioned number to which students of color can text the keyword STEVE to connect with a crisis counselor. If we learn this number by heart, it gives all of us an easy and concrete way to offer assistance to a young person of color who might need help, simply by suggesting she or he text “STEVE” to 741741.
With warmest wishes for you and your loved ones,
Your friends at the Steve Fund