UD’s Solidarity Group: a safe space for students

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Students hung words of encouragement and support in Haggar University Center during Mental Health Awareness Month in 2016. Photo by Paulina Martin.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘solidarity’ as unity that produces or is based on a community of interests, objectives and standards. A trait that the University of Dallas is proud to possess as one of the student body’s shared fundamental values, few campus organizations better exemplify this sense of community than the Solidarity Group.

The Solidarity Group was started in the fall of 2017 by UD counselor Doug Scott, when he began to notice patterns of mental health concerns expressed by students in their counseling sessions — issues that are common in college, such as anxiety, stress and depression —  and Scott felt they could benefit by sharing with their peers.

The purpose of the Solidarity Group is to provide a comfortable and accepting environment where students feel free to share, discuss and listen to any mental health related concern alongside one another, and where peers connect and communicate in solidarity.

Scott leads the meetings with helpful mental exercises and presents a weekly theme, while students are welcomed to share anything on their mind at any time.

“If there is one rule, we cherish authenticity,” Scott said.

Because one of the greatest human difficulties is vulnerability, attending the Solidarity Group is a testament to courage, and attendees find reward in the solace of solidarity and discovering that they are not alone.

The key element of the group is that students are in solidarity with each other as human beings. Rooted in hope, the Solidarity Group facilitates peer relationships and connections, assuages anxiety, and encourages a sense of mutual belonging — an idea central to the Church of belonging to one another in the body of Christ. The group is a way to experience this, and through it, bring the faith to life.  

Because of the very nature of the group — a safe space to speak openly regarding mental health — those speaking on behalf of the group have been kept anonymous. One student member describes the Solidarity Group:

It’s “something to look forward to. [It’s] all people, talking amongst themselves, sharing possible solutions and experiences, but primarily just listening.”

While the atmosphere is respectful and serious, they still share laughter. Students praised the counseling staff, Scott and Vanessa Garcia, for their genuine and intuitive understanding, as well as their comforting and congenial presence.

Resources for mental health concerns on campus besides the counseling staff include FCA and Campus Ministry.

“The idea of being broken and inferior is a lot more common than you think, and there is a stigma that people can’t be let in,” Scott said. “Let’s remove the stigma.”

As a campus, we can always grow in understanding and awareness of mental health related concerns, so that we may grow in solidarity with one another. Through the Solidarity Group, we see UD taking active strides to provide a healthy and happy campus environment for all students.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, the Solidarity Group is having its first meeting of the semester on Wednesday,  Sept. 19 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Cardinal Farrell Hall 202. The theme of this week’s meeting is living a joyful life, and encountering obstacles along the way.  

The Solidarity Group will meet bi-weekly this semester, on Sept. 19, Oct. 3, Oct. 17, Oct. 31, Nov. 14, Nov. 28 and Dec. 5. The last meeting will be a mental health seminar on how to handle the stress and anxiety of final exams, co-sponsored by the Cowan-Blakley Memorial Library.

A member encourages those who consider going to the Solidarity Group, but have some hesitation:

“If you feel you could benefit from the Group, you don’t lose anything by trying. Don’t be afraid to go.”

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