A steady rain fell as hundreds of Hornets, walking under a rainbow of umbrellas and plastic ponchos, made their way from The WELL to the residence halls and back. The occasion in early April was Sacramento State’s sixth annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk, a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
At times, the trail of walkers stretched over a quarter-mile in the largest-ever turnout for the campus event. The students, faculty, staff, and others who braved the chilly, wet weather were united in a cause: to end the cycle of suicide that each year claims 1,100 college students nationwide.
They were inspired by signs displayed along the way: “You are not alone.” “Love yourself.” “Never give up on someone living with a mental illness.” And they were moved by the personal stories of those whose lives were forever changed by depression and mental illness.
Jody Nelsen, wife of Sac State President Robert S. Nelsen, talked about the pain of losing their only child, Seth. Patrick Dorsey, president of Associated Students Inc. (ASI), spoke of once having suicidal thoughts and of the people who stepped up to help him.
The annual Out of the Darkness Walk, with its mental health fair and remembrance activities, is one of the many ways Sac State supports and cares for its students.
Other efforts include the Student Emergency Housing Program, which provides two students at a time up to 30 days in a residence hall with a meal plan. Produce harvested from the ASI Student Garden is a part of the bounty offered free of charge at the ASI Food Pantry to students facing food insecurities. And Hailey Vincent, the University’s victim advocate, continues the tradition of supporting sexual assault victims that was established at Sac State in 2000, long before it became a practice throughout the California State University (CSU) system.
“With the seventh-most-diverse student body west of the Mississippi River, Sacramento State is fully committed to supporting the wellness and success of its students, especially those most underserved and at risk,” says President Nelsen. “I am proud of what Sac State has achieved so far and am committed to building on our strengths as we continue to be innovators in campus health.”
Support for students comes from every corner of the campus.
Sac State is committed to ensuring that no student goes hungry. Associated Students Inc. regularly offers a bright assortment of fresh produce at its pop-up pantries, which augment the nonperishable offerings at its Yosemite Hall food pantry. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)
A 2015 survey of CSU students revealed that 12 percent were homeless, and 24 percent said they didn’t have enough money for food. At Sac State, approximately 45 percent of students are low-income and Pell Grant-eligible.
High rents in Sacramento have forced some students to make difficult choices. “Students shouldn’t have to think about dropping out of school because they can’t afford their rent. We value the idea of like-equity and equal access to education,” says Danielle Muñoz, the University’s case manager.
Her role includes helping students apply for the Student Emergency Housing Program, launched this spring by Student Affairs, Housing and Residential Life, ASI, and University Enterprises Inc. (UEI). She also connects students to community agencies that will help them find housing, refers those with food insecurities to the ASI Food Pantry, and assists students in applying for the Student Emergency Fund, which will provide immediate assistance of up to $1,500. In addition, the Nelsens have created a student emergency fund in memory of their son.
“Sometimes just the idea that someone on campus supports them is such a relief,” Muñoz says. “Half of their stress is feeling that they’re alone and isolated. After I meet with students and we have a plan, some of their anxiety goes away.”
Muñoz also coordinates Sac State’s Behavioral Intervention Team, which dates to 1996, more than a decade before the Central Intelligence Agency recommended that all colleges and universities establish a behavior threat-assessment unit on campus.
The Behavioral Intervention Team meets regularly to identify and discuss students who may be at risk of endangering themselves. In addition to Student Affairs, team members represent Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS), Human Resources, the Sacramento State Police Department, and the University Counsel.
Stress-Less Puppy Days are a pet project of Student Health and Counseling Services, together with Active Minds. Sweet pooches visit campus each semester to give students a bit of comfort heading into finals. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)
“About 10 years ago, Sac State made a deliberate shift away from the traditional illness-based model of providing health care to a more holistic and prevention-focused approach to wellness,” says SHCS Executive Director Joy Stewart-James.
“Student Health and Counseling Services began a journey of integrating all dimensions of wellness – physical, emotional, intellectual, environmental, career/financial, spiritual, and socio-cultural – into our programs and services,” Stewart-James says. “Our focus is to optimize the health and well-being of our students so they can thrive academically and personally, and to identify risks and give students the tools to make healthy decisions for their physical and mental well-being.”
SHCS and the Sac State chapter of Active Minds, a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., partner on events that support students, including bringing in therapy dogs to soothe students’ jangled nerves before final exams. They also organize the annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk, which this year drew a record number of participants – nearly 1,000 – and raised $12,000 for suicide prevention programs.
In 2016, Active Minds named Sacramento State one of the six healthiest universities in the nation for demonstrating excellence in making the health and well-being of students a priority.
“Sacramento State stands out because it invests in students’ physical and mental health on a comprehensive scale and for the long term,” says Alison Malmon, executive director of Active Minds. “Sacramento State is a model of what’s possible when a college prioritizes a campus culture of health, safety, and well-being.”
The University was singled out for its best practices, including:
SHCS also organizes Sac State’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities each April. This year’s program included “Hornets Help” bystander training and the 16th annual Sacramento State Take Back the Night, a march through campus to raise awareness of sexual- and gender-based violence and encourage a commitment to activism.
Can you dig it? ASI, with an assist from students across campus, has planted a vegetable garden in Lot 10. The fresh produce grown in the Student Garden helps to fill a need for Hornets facing food insecurity. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)
Sac State’s student leadership launched its on-campus food pantry at the start of the 2015-16 academic year, after a 2013 study revealed that 60 percent of responding students said they sometimes needed help supplementing their food sources.
Students may visit the pantry in Yosemite Hall once a week and, with their valid Sac State OneCard, can spend points on toiletries and nonperishable food items. The pantry depends on donations from the Sac State community and local businesses.
In partnership with the Central Downtown Food Basket, ASI also runs a pop-up pantry that provides fresh fruit and produce to students.
To augment the fresh offerings, ASI’s Green Team Committee designed and planned the ASI Student Garden, a growing enterprise in Sac State Sustainability’s BAC (Bioconversion and Composting) Yard in Parking Lot 10. The garden is tended by students from Professor Kelly Thompson’s Food Production and Sustainability class, along with BAC Yard student interns and volunteers. The project was funded by a $2,500 micro grant from the California State Students Association (CSSA).
ASI also is a partner in the Student Emergency Housing Program.
“As the California State University in the state’s capital, we take pride in leading the charge when it comes to serving students in crisis,” says ASI President Dorsey.
Not only was Sac State the first CSU campus to hire a dedicated victim advocate, in 2000, but it also wrote the system’s first sexual misconduct policy five years later.
The University continues its commitment to the campus community with the “We Care. We Will Help” campaign, introduced at the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year. The campaign includes a microsite – www.csus.edu/titleix – printed materials, fliers, and posters, all branded “We Care. We Will Help.”
“Title IX” in the website’s address refers to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and stalking, in any federally funded education program or activity.
“Sexual misconduct is a serious offense that violates fundamental rights and personal dignity,” says William “Skip” Bishop, director of Equal Opportunity and Sac State’s Title IX coordinator. “We offer numerous support and reporting options for victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Even if you aren’t a victim, you can help by reporting such incidents.”
The campaign is a cross-campus collaboration that includes Student Affairs, SHCS, the Office for Equal Opportunity, Human Resources, the Sacramento State Police Department, and Public Affairs, along with WEAVE and other community organizations. It underscores the importance to the University of providing security for all members of the campus community, particularly students, and further demonstrates Sac State’s role as a safe and caring campus. – Dixie Reid
“I invite you to take a moment to learn how Sacramento State is helping our students by providing the services they need for their health and well-being – and their futures.”
– President Robert S. Nelsen