A statement by the Steve Fund regarding the recent hate crime at American University

American University recently was the site of a hate crime toward African American students. Bananas were found hanging by rope in the shape of nooses in at least three locations on campus. Written on them were the letters “AKA” which represent Alpha Kappa Alpha, a sorority with predominantly African American members. The event happened the same day that the university’s first black female student government president, Taylor Dumpson, took office. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

The Steve Fund strongly condemns all hate crimes. This particular incident is a strong reminder of the need for colleges and universities to do much more in support of the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color. It speaks loudly to the need for universities to be more pro-active in the strategies and policies they use to contribute to the success of students of color.

The Steve Fund applauds American University for immediately calling this crime what it is: a hate crime. This initiated the involvement of the FBI along with campus police and the DC police much more rapidly. The incident shows that even a liberal and progressive institution like AU is not safe from such incidents. It is ironic that it took place during May, which is national mental health awareness month.

One cannot overestimate the amount of emotional stress such an incident exerts on students of color, even if they just read about it and even if it doesn’t happen on their own campus. Universities must implement focused strategies and dedicate sufficient resources in support of the emotional well-being of students of color. Research shows that differences in the ethnic background of students necessitate culturally specific approaches to supporting their mental health and emotional well-being. A Harris Poll conducted online in 2016 among 1,500 second-semester freshmen revealed that black students didn’t seek help as often as white students for their mental health concerns; white students were nearly twice as likely to report receiving a diagnosis of anxiety, depression, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Three-quarters of black students said they tend to keep their feelings about the difficulties of college to themselves.

With support from the Knight Foundation, the Steve Fund has partnered with the Crisis Text Line to provide a text messaging service to improve the critically needed access for young people of color to crisis counseling. Young persons of color who feel down, stressed or overwhelmed can text “STEVE” to 741741 and a live, trained Crisis Counselor will receive the text and respond to them quickly to provide support.

The Steve Fund and The Jed Foundation have also partnered to create the Equal Chance at Mental Health Framework with expert-consensus 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 students.

The Equal Chance at Mental Health Framework will be released in 2017. To sign up for updates about this Framework, please visit http://www.equalchanceatmentalhealth.org/

With people of color forming the majority of Americans by 2044 (and for children already by 2020), 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.

The hate crime at American University is another reminder of the urgency and importance of taking action. Students of color deserve an equal chance at emotional well-being and mental health.