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    Event Highlights the Importance of Self-care for People of Color

    On Friday, Nov. 30, Ithaca College’s Peggy Ryan Williams Center lobby was filled with students ready to learn ways people of color (POC) can practice self-care on a predominately white campus. The event, “Engaging Mental Health in People of Color,” was held by IC BOLD Women’s Leadership Network.

    Founded by IC president Shirley Collado, the network is dedicated to underrepresented women in higher education and promotes social change and an inclusive campus through leadership initiatives.

    Rita Bunatal, an IC alumna and founder of Malaika Apparel, was the guest speaker at the event.  Bunatal discussed her own methods of self-care during her undergraduate years, her mental health transition into adulthood as a black, plus-size, entrepreneur, and her coping mechanisms to racism, micro-aggressions and body image issues.

    Students also shared their self-care practices with each other and learned about mental health resources in the Ithaca area.

    Candace Cross, IC BOLD Scholar, said group members realized in their meetings that they neglect their own mental health and wanted to create a space where POC can talk or learn about self-care. This is the second time IC BOLD Women’s Leadership Network has held an event focused on this topic.

    “Not seeing yourself represented in the population can take a toll on one’s body, one’s mental health,” Cross said. “It’s important to reflect and look into yourself and make a community for yourself where you feel safe and nurtured in a place where you can often feel isolated.”

    Self-care pamphlets and Black Lives Matter t-shirt on table
    Participants received self-care pamphlets that include breathing exercises, inspirational quotes, and mental health resources. Photo by Danielle Lee

    Bunatal noted that self-care helps her have a deep appreciation for herself. She told the audience that it is important for other POC to practice self-care in a way that is beneficial for them in a society where they face more external pressures.

    “Every single day from every single aspect and angle, folks are being attacked because of the way their skin is, or because of the way they speak or where they’re from or their hair texture,” Bunatal said.

    Participants entering a raffle in Peggy Ryan Williams
    Malaika Apparel and other self-care products were raffled for participants at the event. Photo by Danielle Lee

    According to the American Psychiatric Association, minorities are less likely to receive mental health care, with 48 percent of whites receiving mental health care in 2015 compared to 31 percent of blacks and Hispanics, and 22 percent of Asians. Lack of insurance and of culturally competent providers, language barriers and mental health stigma in minority populations often affect treatment decisions for racial/ethnic groups.

    Chart showing peopl who receive mental health services

    “We’re so resilient and we carry so much trauma on our backs, so it’s a necessity for us to take time out to breathe and find out what it is we like to do,” Bunatal said. “If that means doing a face mask, reading a book, writing, singing or whatever that looks like for you, keep doing it because the passion that comes out of self-care can make moves in this world.”

    Noelle Raj, senior IC student, noticed that her passivity is a big reason why she doesn’t feel as good as she wants to. Raj said she is working on her self-care by being assertive and speaking up to make sure she is heard.

    “Self-care for us in an act of empowerment, of resistance, and being in a space where we can share that together was an amazing experience,” Raj said.

    “A lot of great things are unlocked when we are able to appreciate and love ourselves more,” Bunatal said.

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