Students clamored to color at one of the popular stations at the recent Fresh Check fair at Emerson College. Photos by Victoria Bilcik '17
When you think about spreading awareness about mental illness and suicide prevention, you probably don’t think of ball pits, mini-golf, or giant stuffed elephants. But that’s exactly what was delivered at Emerson College’s first Fresh Check Day, an interactive wellness fair.
Hundreds of students and staff from various departments took over the first floor of the Max Mutchnick Campus Center on October 21. The halls were festooned with balloons and colorful posters boasting messages of hope and positivity, as music and laughter echoed all the way to Boylston Street.
“This was better than I could have imagined,” said Kellie Fuller of Enrollment Services and Support and the Office of Student Success at Emerson, who organized the event. “It’s been a positive buzz ever since the first student walked in.”
The event consisted of eight stations, each sponsored by a different campus department and featuring a different Fresh Check activity to promote a form of mental health awareness.
The Younique station, for example, encouraged students to draw, write, and paint messages of body positivity on cut-up denim jeans. Volunteers then hung students’ work on clotheslines to display. Other stations featured meditation, coloring books, and depression and anxiety screenings.
“We want people to be talking about mental health from the positive aspect of it, because you never know what somebody’s dealing with,” said Fuller, “and if you’re talking about it in a positive way, they’re going to be more open to getting feedback, to getting help, and to talking about it.”
Fresh Check Day is an event that the Jordan Porco Foundation (JPF) brings to college campuses across the country to facilitate a “check in” on students’ mental health and to promote wellness and awareness. Emerson added its own flavor to the traveling wellness fair when the Office of Diversity and Inclusion proposed a new station unlike any other, called Resiliency in the Face of Microagressions, which was approved by JPF. Participants were invited to create buttons with statements of resiliency to wear.
“We thought it would be good to think about how microagressions impact emotional, mental, and physical health,” said Robert Amelio, director of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence at Emerson. “People have to build resiliency, the ability to bounce back over and over again from it. So we decided to have a booth that spoke just to that.”
Upon arriving at the fair, students received a card that they could get stamped at every station they visited. If they obtained at least five stamps, they were entered in a raffle to win prizes such as a 32” flat-screen television. One station, called Nine Out of Ten, was a required visit.
Nine Out of Ten is based on the statistic that 1 in 10 college students contemplates suicide. Given that, the Fresh Check Day team said there are 9 out of 10 college students who can provide support and help prevent these contemplations from becoming attempts. Volunteers at this station provided information to potential allies and encouraged everyone to sign a pledge to educate themselves about mental illness, work to de-stigmatize mental illness, and take proper steps to get help for people who might be in danger.
The fair impressed Jackie Roman ’17, who participated in nearly every station: “They had a lot of really well done things that made people better understand issues of mental health.”
Maggie Dunleavy ’17 said she appreciated the positive approach to such a sensitive topic, and how the event made it possible to connect with herself and others at the same time. “It was informative, but more than that, it was uplifting,” she said. “I loved it. I had so much fun. There were so many opportunities to express myself, to remind myself that things are going to be okay, and also to share messages of positivity with other people whom I don’t know.”
Fuller said she and the staff members who helped organize the event hope that Fresh Check Day continues conversations started during events such as the Center for Health and Wellness’s Wellness Fair at the beginning of the semester, and the Cirque de Stress sponsored by Student Accessibility Services and the Iwasaki Library at the end of the semester. She said she hopes Emerson can be a place where mental health can be discussed freely and honestly.
“We thought the midway point [in the semester] would be great,” she said. “That way, eventually, it just becomes a continual flow and keeps the conversation going throughout the year, making mental health a priority and a conversation that we have all the time.”
The ball pit was a popular choice at the Fresh Check fair.