Wellness In Color: A Young, Gifted @Risk & Resilient Pre-Conference Gathering for Students


Many students know how difficult it can be to navigate the social systems of college life, but when you are a student of color, this journey comes with its own set of complex issues.  The Young, Gifted, @ Risk & Resilient pre-conference, called Wellness in Color, was held at the University of Michigan in late October to give students a space to dialogue about the impact of perceived discrimination, exploitation, and racism on their campuses and how these issues contributed to and affected their wellbeing and mental health. The graduate students at the pre-conference appeared quite vulnerable to emotional exhaustion and mental health distress. They reported feeling like they had opportunities to do meaningful work, but also susceptible to adverse experiences because of inequalities in their respective departments. These students expressed frustration with the mismatch between their research interest and that of the department; not being included in, or informed of, opportunities and expectations; and the compensation for their graduate teaching positions, which substantially lags behind the job market for people with their qualifications.

As one of the facilitators at the pre-conference, it was hard to hear the painful stories of my peers, but I was determined to leave them with a sense of hope. Hope for a better future. Hope for better environments that encourage positive mental health.  Hope for equitable opportunities regardless of race, class, or gender.  Hope that our advocacy leads us to stories of healing, thriving, and higher graduation rates for students of color.

Many thanks to the Steve Fund and The National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan for giving us a space to share our experiences and encourage each other before the conference. Thank you also to the faculty who spent time hearing our concerns and answering our questions.

~Shantalea Johns
Alumnus, Steve Fund Youth Advisory Board