UMBC definitely needed an eating disorder support group. But when I was thinking over potential activist projects for GWST 200, I found myself resisting the idea of starting one. It’s too personal, I thought. Too close to home. I’d have to disclose (at least by proxy) to a lot of people about my eating disorder. But the longer I thought about it, the more I realized that inaction was simply not worth it. I needed a support group, and I knew that the students of UMBC needed one too.
Submitting the application to become an official student org felt really good. I found myself checking my email obsessively hours after sending it in. I knew that there would be nothing there, but the anticipation was killing me. After two months, I assumed that UMBC Student Orgs had just forgotten about me entirely. Receiving the email that we were not just an organization but funded was exhilarating. Thanks, State of Maryland!
There is still a lot of work to do. I have never been to a support group before and need to educate myself about how to officiate one. There are some support group toolkits and useful resources online, but it would be extremely beneficial to see if I could attend some meetings over the summer at Sheppard Pratt. I have no idea if this is feasible, we’ll see. Next semester I will definitely take a safe space training course at UMBC.
I asked a friend of mine who has been in care for an eating disorder about what he considers effective support group strategies, and he said that art therapy has hands down been the most empowering and useful support group tool. Budget constraints aside, I am definitely taking his advice into consideration and think that even “amateur” art therapy (draw how this makes you feel, draw something that gives you power, etc.) would be really helpful and relaxing.
I also am interested in pursuing related activism on a larger scale. There is a lot of really unhealthy diet culture propagated at UMBC and while I am pretty much powerless to change it, I think it would be good and productive to point out that it’s messed up and triggering. Examples: the new TVs at True Grits that literally broadcast calorie and fat counts of various items on big screens all over the dining hall; the dining app and online dining menus that allow you to add up calorie counts of your meals; the signs urging people to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Obviously, for some people these are relevant and useful, but I think it would be worthwhile to voice the issues with them as well.
Basically, there’s a lot (a LOT) to be done. I am certain that without this class, I never would have taken the initial step to actually make a difference. I’m very grateful to my groupmate Ali for all the hard work and brainstorming, to the various members of GWST 200 who signed over their names and email addresses to be placeholder officers in the group, and of course, Dr. Kate, erstwhile GWST teacher and now advisor
to the first student-run m
ental health support group (that I know of) at UMBC. Thanks so much everyone! Very excited to see what happens.
Over all I thought that this project went well. Unfortunately we had a lot of
waiting around to do because the school was not quick in deciding our fate with the
student organization. However, WE CAME THROUGH. I am so happy that we are now
an official organization and we can start helping people around campus. We have
posters that have been drafted and they are in progress to being finished, but again we
will have to wait for approval from the university to hang them around campus and to
start spreading the word. I have been doing some work of my own by talking to my
teammates and having the spread the word also I am notifying my athletic training staff
that there is now a safe option for our student athletes to seek help if need be. I am
notifying my coaches as well so that they can meet with athletes and they have
something to offer to them. This is key because everyone is not willing to admit they
have a problem so this could be a private way to help spread the word without making
someone feel outed or pressured to go. There are a lot of athletes who suffer with
eating disorders so this is a great option for them if they want to pursue it.
If I were to do this project again I would start the process with the university
earlier. They were very slow in getting back to us. If I would have known we would have
had to wait all semester to hear back I might have started earlier, right when we got our
idea approved. But overall I think that Rebecca and I worked well together and we are
just at the beginning of it all. We have so many things to do over the summer and I cant
wait for next year when we can have meetings and really get the group in full swing.
The great news is that this will not end with the end of school. We can work over the
summer to help people as well as make sure that things are all worked out for the start
of the next school year.