On Saturday, August 12, 2017, white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue memorializing Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s top general. They marched with tiki torches, evoking images of the KKK and Nazi rallies. They were met by counter protesters. The situation became violent. Then, around 1:45 p.m., a car plowed into a group of counter protesters. Heather D. Heyer, 32, a paralegal from Charlottesville, was killed. 19 people were injured. In total, 34 people were wounded in the confrontations. Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia declared a state of emergency.

The Steve Fund condemns the violence, the hate crimes, and the racist movements that drive them. We are deeply concerned beyond the immediate impact of the events. Across the nation, young people of color are exposed to images that represent nothing short of profound racial trauma: Torch-bearing Neo-Nazis… Images of racist violence and hatred and bigotry… A car barreling into counter protesters…

These images and events will have a profound adverse impact on the emotional well-being and mental health of young people of color across the nation.

The situation is made worse by the fact that students of color are underserved compared to white students for their mental health concerns, as evidenced in a 2016 Harris Poll conducted online among 1,500 second-semester freshmen. For a young person of color who is already feeling depressed or anxious, events such as the ones in Charlottesville can exacerbate their emotional and mental health status. Further, the racial trauma engendered by such events, generally causes significant concern for young people of color and their families.

With the fall semester about to start around the nation, students of color everywhere, not just at the University of Virginia, now experience even more intense anxiety about their college experience. Likewise, their parents have even more reason to worry about the physical and emotional well-being of their children while away from home.

Research shows that differences in the ethnic background of students necessitate culturally specific approaches to supporting their mental health and emotional well-being.

It is more urgent than ever that universities implement culturally appropriate strategies and dedicate sufficient resources in support of the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color.

There are immediate resources to give young people of color. The Steve Fund has partnered with Crisis Text Line to provide a text messaging service to connect young people of color to crisis counseling. If you know young persons of color who feel anxious, depressed or stressed, please let them know that they can text “STEVE” to 741741 to connect with a live, trained crisis counselor 24/7.

The Steve Fund and The Jed Foundation have also partnered to create the Equity in Mental Health Framework with expert recommendations for America’s colleges and universities to better support the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color. This framework is based on a systematic literature review; a survey of existing evidence-based programs; expert input from mental health and higher education leaders; and a survey of more than 1,000 racially diverse students and expert feedback from students themselves. It will be released later in 2017. It is our hope that the Equity in Mental Health Framework will empower colleges and universities across the nation to significantly improve the support for the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color.

To sign up for updates about the Equity in Mental Health Framework, please visit http://www.equityinmentalhealth.org/

The Steve Fund is working with higher education leaders across the nation to improve support for the mental health and emotional well-being of college and university students of color. If you are a leader in higher education and would like to connect with us for advice, program options, and resources, please email us at info@stevefund.org. There is also more information on the Steve Fund’s Programs and Services page.

With people of color forming the majority of Americans by 2044 (by 2020 for children), the future success of our nation will depend on the mental health and emotional well-being of all student populations, and on colleges and universities to provide support appropriately.

In these troubled times, our focus on the emotional well-being and mental health of college and university students of color is more urgent than ever.