Darcy Porter | March 03, 2022

Focusing on Mental Health

A new campus initiative aims to address a national concern related to the mental health of underrepresented students in high school, better preparing them to thrive in college.

exterior of Counseling Center building

A national online poll among first-year college freshman found that students of color feel more overwhelmed and less prepared, both emotionally and academically, than their peers. Often times the culprit is mental health.

By partnering with the STEVE Fund, SUNY Brockport will be better equipped to address the unique mental health needs of our BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) students. The STEVE Fund’s comprehensive, 18-month long program will evaluate our campus climate, issue a task force report, and guide us through the creation of programs and strategic partnerships related to improving the emotional well-being of our diverse student body.

“As a counseling center director, I’ve looked at ways to make mental health a campus priority, but we’ve never had the money to do something like this. Fortunately, with the gift of those funds, we’re able to make it happen.”
Darlene Schmitt, Associate Director of Counseling Center

Headshot of Darlene Schmitt

Darlene Schmitt

The STEVE Fund is a leading organization in the quest for mental health resources for young people of color, with an intentional focus on college students and college campuses. What originated from the basic realization that mental health was adversely affecting high school performance for students of color more so than white students, eventually grew into what is it now.

The organization provides training to college campuses across the country in order to increase the availability and utilization of mental health resources – ultimately increasing success rates – of underrepresented college students.

But such complex and important work doesn’t come without a hefty price tag.

It was all made possible by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) that Brockport received during the COVID-19 pandemic. HEERF, as part of the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, allocated monies to colleges for both student aid and institutional purposes. Brockport received over $500,000 to spend on these types of programs, and immediately identified the $30,000 investment in the STEVE Fund as a priority.

“All of our students matter. So if we help our students of color, then we help all our students. And if we help all our students, then we helped the institution.” 
Darlene Schmitt

“We’re really focusing on the needs of the BIPOC population, because we know the pandemic has hit them harder. The trauma of that, combined with the racial trauma, I think is a lot deeper. It’s super important that they know that we’re here for them,” Schmitt said.

On top of advocating for underrepresented students, the work being done by Schmitt and others who serve on the STEVE Fund Implementation Committee aims to improve the campus culture as a whole.

“All of our students matter. So if we help our students of color, then we help all of our students. And if we help all of our students, then we helped the institution.”

Phase one of the work is currently in process. The STEVE Fund will assess our current mental health landscape by gathering data from students, faculty, and staff to evaluate how campus is responding to and managing mental health-related concerns. Brockport’s internal steering committee is simultaneously engaging in their own evaluations; surveying key stakeholders from across the College to identify goals and next steps. This extensive period of observation and data collection will result in a comprehensive report and list of recommendations.

Phase two will consist of implementing these new measures — and the committee is excited about the many opportunities for growth that will inevitably arise. Initiatives such as a Mental Health Strategic Plan, an Equity in Mental Health Framework, mental health-related programming for students of color, and training opportunities for faculty and staff are just some of the intended outcomes.

However, Schmitt says that the work promoting mental health awareness for underrepresented students does not end with the STEVE Fund. It’s a continuous, ongoing process, one that the College will have to constantly revisit and improve over time. 

“This really is an opportunity for all of us to contribute to mental health and, you know, make it all of our responsibility.”

counseling session with counselor

Crisis Text Line for Students of Color

Are you a current student of color at Brockport? Feeling down, stressed or overwhelmed? Text STEVE to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. 

Counseling Center