Your Guide to Creating Mental Health Communities at HBCUs

Our Active Minds Chapter at Morgan State University was definitely created out of necessity. Prior to the creation of the chapter at Morgan State – one of the nation’s historically Black universities (or HBCUs) – there were no student-led organizations dedicated to addressing mental health on campus. Close to the end of her freshman year, our founder and president, Gabrielle Thompson, went through a challenging time, but knew she wasn’t the only person who was in need of support. She sought help from the available campus resources, including the MSU Counseling Center and their therapy services. However, upon going through this process herself, she realized how underutilized their services truly were. She wanted more for the students on campus so she decided to create a charter for Active Minds at MSU. 

While our story is of course unique to Morgan State, this experience can serve as an example of the increased need for mental health support and resources at HBCUs. The trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the spotlight shone toward violence against Black people in the media in recent years has had a tremendous impact on the mental health of the Black community. These factors along with gun violence, climate change, and economic uncertainty have caused young Black people to be more predisposed to depression, anxiety, and stress

One of the most prominent events that had a major impact on the mental health of our students were the bomb threats sent to HBCUs in early 2022. Between Jan. 4 and Feb. 16, more than 57 bomb threats were sent to HBCUS, places of worship, and other faith-based and academic institutions. Our own school, Morgan State, received a bomb threat on Feb. 1 – the first day of Black History Month. The ironic timing and clear hatred that these unknown suspects expressed toward the Black community sparked a great deal of fear, anger, and anxiety amongst our students. However, despite the chaos that the perpetrators created, our tenacity and resilience as young Black scholars allowed us to overcome that level of hate and continue to prove why HBCUs are so essential to our society in the first place.

We want Morgan State’s Active Minds chapter to be a positive influence and refuge not only for its members, but for our entire campus community. Throughout our first full year as an active student organization at MSU, we’ve hosted a variety of events that our students have enjoyed attending and participating in to address their mental health. Some of our events included: 

  • “Dear Future Me”: Students were able to write letters to their future self where they could set goals, reflect, and relax.
  • “Pause for Paws”: In order to alleviate the stress of midterm week, we invited students to join us for an afternoon of play with therapy dogs from an organization called Pets on Wheels.
  • “Mindful Moments”: Our president, Gabrielle Thompson, led participants in an hour of outdoor yoga on The Yard, a communal outdoor space on campus.

One of our chapter’s greatest achievements is the presence that we’ve developed on campus. Through the use of social media, collaborations with established student organizations, and developing new and unique events, we have been able to connect with many new students during our inaugural year. With each connection and each event, we are destigmatizing mental health issues while giving our students a much needed outlet to vent and build a community amongst one another. 

We believe the best way that our organization can continue to be supported is by having student concerns taken seriously, and by the administration continuing to offer the necessary resources to improve the mental health of students at MSU. The students at Morgan State take pride in our relationship with campus administration in that we are offered platforms to voice our concerns and can actively contribute to the betterment of how students are supported at our school. Faculty, administration, and national organizations like Active Minds can make an immense impact by being present for us through our events, helping to grow our audience by sharing our social media, and spreading the mission of our organization with their communities. As we continue to grow, our goal is to always be there for our students and offer community as we navigate the many trials that come with being college students. Through outreach and service, the Active Minds chapter at Morgan State University will continue to strive for the improvement of our students’ mental health and that of our greater Baltimore community.

Photo by Morgan State University Student Mikey (Instagram: @mikewilltakeit).