Opinion: HBCU’s Role in Supporting Students of Color

Wayne A.I. Frederick / March 13, 2017

AS I reflect on Howard University’s storied history of 150 years of excellence in truth and service, I am reminded of how essential health and wellness is to this nation and Howard University’s ensuing influence.

According to the World Health Organization, health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence.

Although we often focus on our physical health, it is essential that while we exist in a politically charged and polarizing environment, we continue to cultivate a culture of total wellness. Thus, Howard University has increased its focus on the well-being of our entire student body population, faculty and staff. We are working diligently to highlight the importance of mental health awareness.

Despite the significant strides made over the years, racism continues to have an impact on the mental health of African Americans. Adult African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to report severe psychological distress than adult whites. Adult African-Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than adult whites.

And while African-Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide as teenagers, African-American teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than white teenagers (8.3 percent v. 6.2 percent).

As the 17th president of one of the nation’s leading HBCUs, I consider it my responsibility to ensure that Howard University remains at the forefront of advocating for the resources necessary to ensure that students are being nurtured in a conducive and accepting learning environment. It is important Howard provides an environment for students where they can feel open to express their sensitivities and seek the help they need to maximize their potential as the future trailblazers and provocateurs of this world.

In alignment with the Mary Christie Foundation’s dedication to the field of student health and wellness, Howard, alongside the nation’s other historic and groundbreaking HBCUs, must conduct the research, teaching, and clinical care that seeks to eliminate health disparities and provides service to the most vulnerable among us.

Howard University remains invested in providing exemplary education, service, and research that promotes patient-centered, collaborative care and advocates for the elimination of health disparities. As one of the top 50 most funded psychiatric research facilities in the U.S., Howard’s active research program complements patient care. Our University counseling services are geared toward increasing self-understanding, autonomy, and personal development.

Additionally, training programs are available for medical students and residents for adult psychiatry. Specifically, The Howard University Counseling Services engages in a wide variety of outreach events each semester. Every event has a teaching component about mental health. Presentations addressing signs of distress on topics such as drug and alcohol usage, domestic violence and sexual assault, stress management, test anxiety, depression and suicide, anxiety and relaxation techniques, and hazing are also provided to university resident assistants, graduate assistants, faculty, and staff.

In addition, University Counseling Services provides these services to the Law School students at their campus and to student organizations upon request. Currently, a series of biweekly presentations are being provided to various residence halls for the residents.   

I intend to ensure that Howard University continuously has access to the resources needed to make mental health a priority across our campus. I look forward to using this season to focus on health and wellness and hope that you will do the same so that we can work collectively to be a healthier community.