See Through Stigma Week Raises Awareness of Mental Health and Physical Disabilities

“I want this week to encourage people to ask for help if they need it.”

By Annie Guo

This Monday marked the beginning of the inaugural See Through Stigma Week: four days of events dedicated to raising awareness of mental health and physical disability.

The week is the result of collaboration between two campus RSOs, Axis and Active Minds. Active Minds is a nation-wide mental health organization whose UChicago chapter was started and is currently run by fourth-year Madeline Klinger. Axis is a community service RSO dedicated to raising awareness of and changing the perceptions surrounding both mental health and physical disability. Axis brings discussion about disability to campus through teach-ins and lectures. Its philanthropic arm sends UChicago students to volunteer with students receiving special education services at local elementary schools. The RSO was founded by and is co-led by fourth-year Grace Koh and third-year Alita Carbone.

The goal of the week is partly to create dialogue about disability and also to break through the stigmas associated with mental health and physical disability. The events will try to increase recognition of how notions of disability may define and affect someone, and then reinforce the belief that people have a right to shape their own identities.

“One of the biggest issues facing young people today is the stigma surrounding disability, mental health, and other differences. I want this week to encourage people to ask for help if they need it, to cherish being different, but to also know that it is your right to identify in the manner of your choosing,” Carbone said.

One of the ways in which they aim to facilitate dialogue is through the Polaroid Project, for which students can stop by Reynolds Club anytime between 11:30 and 1:30, Tuesday–Thursday to take Polaroid pictures of themselves and label them with how they are feeling. The Polaroids will then be displayed on a poster board for public viewing.

The first event of the week will be a lecture and discussion on Hidden Disability at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Jason Harris, the 26-year-old College of Mount St. Joseph graduate and co-founder of Jason’s Connection, an online resource for friends, family, and individuals with disabilities, will be speaking about his experiences with Asperger’s syndrome.

A Resource Fair from 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. on Wednesday is designed to showcase the resources available on campus to support mental health and physical disabilities. Members from a variety of RSOs and health organizations such as Health Promotion and Wellness and Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention will be present.

A discussion concerning mental health and how to help friends who are dealing with difficult experiences will take place Thursday evening after a showing of The Perks of Being a Wallflower at 7:30 p.m. in Harper 141.

The week will conclude with an Intersectional Social Friday night from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in Bartlett Lounge. This is a chance to meet students who organized the week and discuss mental and physical health in an informal setting.

All three presidents expressed hope that See Through Stigma Week will recur annually and grow in the future.