In an intimate room with a light atmosphere, the Theta Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Incorporated kicked off their annual May Week on Monday, May 9, in Harris Hall.
What exactly is May Week? Taylor Shaw, a senior and member of Delta Sigma Theta, explained that organization’s annual week is one that is about scholarship, education, and service. The theme for this year was ‘Remembering Our Roots.’
Shaw explained that the goal of theme was to “get back to our roots as black people and as black women.” In order to do so, Shaw said that the chapter wanted to spark conversation around mental health, the inclusion of ‘other’ black people, specifically transgender and queer identified black people, as well as overall physical health.
The goals of this year’s May Week were made very clear by the events that the Theta Alpha Chapter hosted this week. Monday night the chapter hosted an event titled “Fighting to Breathe: Mindfulness in a Suffocating Society.” At the event, a few members of Delta Sigma Theta shared their own personal experiences and struggles with mental health, and on how being a student on Northwestern’s campus can take a toll on one’s mental health, especially as a black person.
The chapter introduced a stress relief technique called ‘mindfulness,’ which Aisha Hauser, sophomore and member of Delta Sigma Theta, defined as “figuring out your own connection between your mind and your body… shutting off the world and paying attention to what’s happening to you.” Hauser said that the keys to mindfulness are recognizing what you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and being non-judgmental of yourself for having these feelings. She said that it is important to understand what’s going on within yourself and being able to move on past it.
The mindfulness technique that was taught was one that is very similar to meditation. The Delta members leading the discussion asked everyone in the room to close their eyes for two minutes, as they turned the lights off and played a mindfulness video in the background that instructed you on how to breathe and attempt to completely release all thoughts from your mind. Though the exercise was just a brief introduction to mindfulness, many in the room shared that after the two minutes they felt a bit more relaxed after having a long day, and towards the end of the two minutes they were feeling closer to being able to completely free their minds from thought.
After a hearty discussion of how being a Northwestern student alone can be a very stressful experience, the chapter introduced their letter to President Schapiro on behalf of the student body, in regards to introducing a rectro-active grade change/withdrawal policy. You can read the letter here on BlackBoard. Jade Mitchell-Lewis, a sophomore and member of Delta Sigma Theta, spoke on how being a student, Black, and an activist has been an extremely challenging for her, and though she has not taken a medical leave due to mental health she feels for those who do/have. She spoke of how many students Northwestern lost 137 students during the 2014-2015 school year, 90% due to mental health related issues, and how many students do not return from these medical leaves.
According the letter penned by the chapter, a retroactive grade change/withdrawal policy would “students who have suffered from mental health issues or other unique traumas to have their grades retroactively dropped from a quarter in which their issues severely affected their academic performance.” In the letter they on BlackBoard, they share the policy of other institutions such as Penn State University, The University of Texas at Austin, University of California, Davis, and more as examples of what Northwestern’s policy could look like.
In order to help their voices be heard, the Theta Alpha chapter asked that those who came out to the event get involved and email President Schapiro with the body of the letter. A day later, on Tuesday, May 10, President Schapiro replied to members of the chapter and said that the retroactive grade change/withdrawl policy was an “interesting idea” that he would “share with the relevant folks.”
The event was successful, as many left very satisfied with their new mindfulness techniques in tow. Joanne Ogundipe, a Weinberg freshman, said that what was discussed was relevant and relatable. She said that personally, as she is figuring out how to deal with academic pressure, learning mindfulness techniques was definitely helpful for her.
Along with Monday’s mindfulness event, the chapter hosted “More Than Cisters: Challenging Perceptions of Queer Identities” on Tuesday in Norris Rock Room. According to the event description, the goal was to “try to eliminate the stigmas attached to queer identities within the Black community.” That event featured special guest and activist Coriama Couture. On Wednesday, the chapter held “Our Bodies Matter: Putting the ‘Black’ in Women’s Health Week,” which was an all-day event at the Black House where one could stop in and receive a free nuturious snack and learn about black women and their health. Thursday, they will host “Delta Workowts,” a session of WERQ, which they describe as a “fiercely fun dance fitness class,” at the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion Studio. Friday night the Theta Alpha chapter will be hosting their 45 th Annual Jabberwork Scholarship Ball at the Crystal Ball Room.
Each year, high school students are honored with scholarships at the event, amongst a night of entertainment.