Campus Life | September 29th, 2021
For Student Leaders, Mental Health Matters
By: Journey Photography Team | Devani Allen, Destiny Hogan, Nina Shortt, Aliyah Terry
Student leaders across Florida A&M University’s campus say that balancing the pressures of school, social life and campus positions can sometimes feel overwhelming. Behind the towering pedestal they are placed on, student leaders struggle with their mental health in silence.
Lawrencia Palmer, the SGA secretary of student welfare, said that the unprecedented nature of last year took a toll on her mental health. “Quarantine definitely made me feel alone. I was with a lot of people I care about but, you know, quarantine just definitely made me feel so isolated and anxious about what was going on in the world,” Palmer said.
While adjusting to the startling isolation, Palmer also felt the weight of the nation’s racial reckoning that followed the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. “During the start of quarantine, there was a lot of racial unrest and just a lot going on. The world was so heavy, so I just felt so helpless during quarantine,” Palmer continued, lamenting the state of uncertainty she experienced.
In regards to the stigma against reaching out for help, Palmer believes her community’s fixation on remaining strong often allows mental health to languish in silence. “That’s the biggest thing because ultimately as a black woman, and men too, we often feel — because we’re so resilient — we feel like we can’t ask for help. We can’t reach out to therapy,” she said. “Honestly, we need to open up our communities and understand it’s okay to help one another. It’s okay to be there for each other.”
When asked how he copes with holding one of the most revered titles on campus and overcoming battles with mental health, Kaleb Levarity focuses on prioritizing himself and his loved ones.
“The stress that comes from holding a position can oftentimes feel uncontrollable,” Levarity, who serves as Mr. FAMU, said. From university appearances to feeling the pressures of the microscopic gaze, Levarity often feels overwhelmed. He continued, “To overcome my own battles, I surround myself with friends that can love and push me when I am overwhelmed.”
Noting the stigma against mental health, Levarity says, “In the African American community we shame those that go to therapy, but for many it is essential.” In addition to seeking professional help, Levarity also urges students to truly understand that rest is imperative for their wellness. “Find the thing that makes you happy because personal time is necessary to keep going and regroup.”
Robert Tucker II, a junior broadcast journalism student from Atlanta, Ga., came to Florida A&M University with a purpose to make a change. Better known as “Deuce” on the campus, Tucker is heavily involved in many organizations: SGA, Collegiate 100, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., NAACP and WANM 90.5 The Flava Station to name a few. However, behind his stacked resume, Tucker is pressed against the stress of maintaining multiple organizations.
“You put so much on your plate, you forget to eat the stuff that you already have on there,” Tucker said. To juggle it all, he relies on daily scriptures and walks to refocus on his purpose. “I take four deep breaths and know everything is going to be okay,” Tucker said. “It takes strength, will, and faith in myself to know that the things that I am doing won’t be in vain.”
For Tucker and other student leaders, existing in the campus spotlight also comes with facing unprovoked criticism. “In order to run for positions, you have to put yourself out there,” Tucker said. He continued, “The backlash and feedback from others may come, but you must keep going hard.”
Chazriq Clarke serves as the King of Orange & Green for the 2021-2022 academic school year. Since his freshman year, Clarke has endured the microscopic FAMU spotlight, especially during his last campaign season. “My mental health during campaign season was a struggle. The best way for me to keep myself together was to surround myself with people that can take notice when I’m stressed and help take some of it away,” the 22-year-old said. “People that check up on me and ask if they can just relieve anything on my plate helps keep a balance in my life.”
For Clarke, social media is often a breeding ground for criticism and now he’s trying to distance himself to maintain his mental wellness. “I’m trying to break my habit of, ‘I have to see it.’ When someone posts or comments on me, I feel like I have to know,” he said.
Feeling demanded to maintain his public image and his commitment to his organization is something Clarke is now coping with. He says, “Learning to say no to things and removing myself from certain things helps me [remember] if it’s not helping my mental health or adding on something good in my life, I have to say no.”