Student activists discuss mental health care at PLUMAS workshop

Photo Courtesy of PLUMAS
Photo Courtesy of PLUMAS


Student activists discussed how they can practice self-care in a event hosted by Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society (PLUMAS) on Dec. 8.

Facilitated by counselors Maria Luz Berbery and Chandni Shah from the Counseling Center at the University of Maryland, the self-care workshop addressed how student activists do not focus enough on self-care, especially since the election.

“I think it’s an aspect of activism that is often overlooked,” said Danielle Gillis, senior broadcast journalism and English major. Gillis is also the president of Community Roots.

The workshop, “Healthy Minds: Healthy Activists” was also co-sponsored by Community Roots, the Black Student Union and UMD Student Labor Action Project (SLAP).

Throughout the night, students shared how they felt guilty for taking a break and that they felt pressure from their communities to immediately respond to issues at hand. They expressed a sense of urgency and paranoia to get things done.

The counselors went through slides, asking questions to the participants about how they have been coping in since the election.

“Everything that’s happening after the election is very urgent and that urgency and huge threat is like what’s pushing people to the brink more than ever because they see the fear in themselves,” said Erica Fuentes, president of PLUMAS.

The senior government and politics major continued, saying, “Historically, activist organizations on campus have had a pattern of students being forced to sacrifice their academics or to sacrifice their activism because of the high demands of activism so for me, it’s important for people to be in a good state mentally and prioritizing their academics.”

Discussion followed about balancing the demands of being a student as well as an activist, and how to focus on their emotional, physical and mental needs.

Students said that often in student organizations, people will not want to admit that they want to take a break, or that there needs to be a change in their manner of approaching issues.

Counselors gave tips on how to cope with microaggressions, and they participated in meditation toward the end of the workshop.

“When you’re an activist, you’re fighting things that are negative, what you are surrounding yourself with, you know, things that are negative. Even though as an activist, you try to be hopeful, there’s always that sense of hopelessness,” said Kian Kelley-Chung, sophomore English major.

“I’m a tour guide on campus and people are always asking me, ‘how do you like it? Is it diverse?’ and part of me is like, ‘yeah come to Maryland!’,” said Gillis. “The activist part of me is like, ‘nah man, they don’t care about us. It’s a constant struggle of trying to make it better for ourselves but also for the other people in our lives.”

Participants discussed ways that they can channel their energy elsewhere and maintain balance with school work and activism work.

“[The workshop] reminded me that I am not alone and that I am not the only person that’s feeling this way because of all the issues that are going on,” said Tania Valencia, an organizational specialist with the National Educational Association (NEA).

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