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The Steve Fund Crisis Response Task Force Releases Recommendations for Higher Education Institutions and Employers on Promoting Mental Health and Well-Being of Students of Color

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For Immediate Release: 
September 15, 2020
Contact
Courtney Holsworth, cholsworth@rabengroup.com, (989) 572-8162

The Steve Fund Crisis Response Task Force Releases Recommendations for Higher Education Institutions and Employers on Promoting Mental Health and Well-Being of Students of Color 

Experts provide recommendations on how to mitigate mental health risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis, and racial upheaval 

Washington, D.C.—The Steve Fund Crisis Response Task Force released recommendations today to help institutions of higher education and employers mitigate the mental health risks for young people of color caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis, and ongoing social movement against racism. These multiple converging crises are creating new problems for students of color and those entering the workforce, including abrupt campus closures, continuing uncertainty around the fall semester, loss of internships and job opportunities, and adjusting to remote learning and remote work. Those whose campuses remain closed must navigate the loss of in-person contact with faculty, staff, and peers, and on-campus housing, food, support services, and social communities. Even in the best of circumstances, the transition from college to the workforce is fraught, but young employees of color are facing additional stressors this year, including racial trauma stemming from seeing or experiencing violence against Black and Brown communities. 

Despite the universal nature of these disruptions to students’ lives, students of color, who comprise approximately 45% of college undergraduates, are bearing the weight of these challenges most acutely. Between COVID-19’s disproportionate impacts – physically, economically, and mentally – and the impact of systemic racism, young people of color are grappling with unprecedented health challenges. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, students of color faced unique mental health concerns: they are more likely than their white peers to report feeling overwhelmed during their first year of college and yet they are half as likely to seek help from a mental health professional.

“The mental health challenges facing young people of color are imposing in size, scope, and gravity, and seriously threaten their ability to safely transition to healthy and productive adulthood,” said Sandra E. Timmons, Interim Executive Director of the Steve Fund. “However, these unfortunate circumstances present a unique opportunity for visionary leaders to disrupt existing patterns and accelerate innovation to promote the mental health of young people of color–an indispensable key to their overall success. Providing more robust and effective supports ultimately requires collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including higher education, employers, philanthropy, nonprofits, healthcare, and others. The recommendations we’re releasing today focus on the roles of higher education and employers–both extremely well-positioned for direct and immediate positive results in determining students’ life trajectories.” 

This is the first time leaders from across sectors have come together to consider the mental health concerns of young people of color, a population that is the driving force of our nation’s future economic and social well-being. The Task Force included students; diverse mental health experts; senior executives from corporations, colleges and universities, as well as representatives from the philanthropic, nonprofit, and policy sectors. These leaders offer five recommendations on what institutions of higher education can do to promote the mental health and wellness of students of color: 

  1. Build Trust Through Racial Trauma-Informed Leadership by prioritizing listening, demonstrating empathy towards injustices and inequalities experienced by students of color, and creating and adapting resources that respond to their mental health needs.
  2. Take a Collaborative Approach to Promote Mental Health for Students of Color by having offices such as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Student Affairs partner with the counseling center to enhance capacity; provide customized outreach to students of color; and bolster equity, inclusion, and belonging.
  3. Engage Faculty & Staff to Support Student Mental Health for Students of Color by incorporating practices to promote inclusion and belonging in both virtual and in-person classrooms and and across the campus, and equipping faculty and staff with the skills to identify signs of mental distress.
  4. Treat Student Mental Health as a Priority Area for Investment that must be strengthened for students of color even in these times of great financial strain on higher education so that high-quality virtual and in-person mental health services are easily accessible to these students. 
  5. Leverage Community and External Stakeholders to Promote Emotional Well-Being of Students of Color by partnering with local communities, non-profits, employers and faith based entities to generate creative strategies and augment resources.

The Task Force recommends that: 

  1. Focus on the Student Transition From Higher Education to the Workplace by convening conversations between higher education and workforce leaders to ideate programming and solutions; developing strategies to smooth the transfer of mental health supports, knowledge, and resources from college to work settings; and invest in employees’ development of social capital through internships and mentorships.
  2. Help Young Employees of Color Navigate the Workplace by integrating mental health and emotional well-being into all aspects of workplace operations; retaining diverse, culturally competent mental health experts to equip leaders and managers to serve as mentors and allies; and paying special attention to workplace challenges commonly affecting employees of color.
  3. Conduct a Workplace Culture and Practices Assessment with a 2020 Lens by carefully assessing whether the values employers espoused in the workplace are the same ones experienced by all employees, and specifically new employees of color.
  4. Promote Understanding of Racial Trauma, Mental Health, and Well-Being in the Workplace by recognizing the traumatic impact that violence against Black and Brown communities has on employees of color, and providing mental health and peer support resources that are accessible to these employees.
  5. Develop Allies, Advocacy, and Mobility by leveraging mental health experts and insights to support employees of color at early career stages.

To read the full set of recommendations from The Steve Fund Crisis Response Task Force Report, please visit: https://stevefund.org/crisis-response-task-force

For interviews with The Steve Fund, experts from the Task Force, or students of color please contact Courtney Holsworth at cholsworth@rabengroup.com or (989) 572-8162. 

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The Steve Fund is the nation’s leading organization focused on supporting the mental, social, and emotional health and well-being of young people of color. 

[Video Toolkit] Supporting the Well-Being of Students of Color

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Dear colleagues, 

The inequalities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and racially motivated acts of injustice and oppression have created challenges and exacerbated the burdens for students of color in higher education, who are disproportionately likely to come from low-income communities and/or immigrant backgrounds, and have inadequate access to healthcare. The University of Michigan and The Steve Fund partnered over the past year to expand research and scholarship, and develop resources and professional development opportunities for higher education staff, faculty, and mental health providers to support the well-being and mental health of students of color.

Many students of color routinely report negative experiences in social and academic contexts on their campuses, and the recent increased stressors and trauma due to COVID-19 and racial violence represent both an educational and mental health concern. We share this video toolkit at a critical time when students of color are likely facing unprecedented levels of pressure, tension and distress. We hope you will join us in continuing to learn about and support the mental health and well-being of students of color in higher education. Together, we can play an important role in helping them get through this crisis and plan proactively for the aftermath in order to assist students of color in achieving their academic and career goals.

Tabbye Chavous, PhD
Professor of Education and Psychology
Associate Vice President for Research
Director, National Center for Institutional Diversity
University of Michigan

Annelle Primm, MD
Senior Medical Advisor
The Steve Fund

This video toolkit was developed by The Steve Fund and the National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan.