For the third year, The University of Olivet students have taken on a very important charge — organizing an Out of the Darkness Campus Walk in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The walk aims to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention, bringing the campus community together for a remarkable cause. This year’s walk will take place on Saturday, March 28, with the most ambitious fundraising goal yet: $15,000.
“Holding the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk each year shows our students and the rest of our community that we take the issues of suicidality and mental health very seriously,” said John Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology. “It demonstrates that we are not afraid to address this very sensitive issue, and it helps us to show everyone that hope exists, and that help and support are available. As painful as this subject is to talk about, it is profoundly important that we continue to talk about it, and that we remove the stigma from being open about our mental health needs.”
This year, a special population is invited to join the walk for the first time — dogs. Known as “Paws for Prevention,” the AFSP recognizes the joy and support pets and service animals bring to many, creating the perfect partnership for the Out of the Darkness Walk. The University of Olivet’s Pre-Vet Club is taking the lead on inviting these special four-legged friends to participate in the walk.
“Suicide is a major concern within the veterinary community,” said junior Elijah Collins, a biology major with a pre-vet concentration and co-vice president of the Pre-Vet Club. “As the Pre-Vet Club, we wanted to support the fight for suicide prevention for those within the veterinary community because it is not commonly talked about. We also want to raise awareness about prevention as a whole, and to discuss the capabilities of animals, whether they are a pet, an emotional support animal or a trained service animal.”
In addition to the Pre-Vet Club, the Marching Comets, psychology program and Gamma Iota Sigma professional insurance fraternity are teaming up to lead the walk with two main goals. First, to help erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide by offering a safe and open forum for discussion, while also having information and resources available. Second, to raise a minimum of $15,000, some of which will be used to enhance mental health support services on campus. In 2018, the fundraising goal for the walk was $5,000 and in 2019, the fundraising goal was $10,000. Donations exceeded the goals in both 2018 and 2019.
“Leading the walk the past three years has been one of the most challenging and most rewarding opportunities I’ve ever had,” said senior and walk chairperson Abigale Smith. “Having lost two people in my life to suicide, I know firsthand the importance of the work we’re doing with this walk, not only in raising awareness of suicide prevention and mental health, but also in bringing hope and healing to those affected by suicide. It is truly amazing to see the amount of support we’ve received from across campus and the surrounding communities, and it goes to show just how important this cause is.”
As Abigale prepares to graduate this May, she’s also passing the role of walk chairperson to sophomore Victoria Herson. For Victoria, helping organize the walk is a way to give back to her college community and continue to erase the stigma around mental health.
“I was eager to take the opportunity because I see how tough the topic of mental health is for some people to discuss and how important it is that the topic gets discussed,” Victoria said. “Mental health and wellness needs to be talked about and made aware to more people so the proper help and resources can be given to those who need it. College students undergo a lot of additional stress, and they need a safe place to talk about their mental health while getting the support they need to succeed.”
First-year student Griffon Rice didn’t hesitate to get involved with the walk, motivated by her family background. While she doesn’t have a formal planning role just yet, she’s eager to get involved later in her college journey.
“Programs like the Out of the Darkness Walk are helpful to students, but they have to open up to the experience. Being vulnerable is scary, but is something we have to do in order to let people help us,” Griffon said. “Mental health resources on campus show students that there is help out there and that they aren’t alone in their situations. I want students to know that going to the walk can really help. It is a sensitive place and time; everyone is there for each other and no one will be judging you.”
The AFSP has become a national leader in the fight against suicide by funding research, creating educational programs, advocating for public policy, and supporting survivors of suicide loss. The organization collaborates with high schools and colleges across the nation to host campus walks, bringing together a community focused on suicide prevention thousands-strong. The campus walks target a key age group of individuals, as suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for those between the ages of 15 and 34. The AFSP dedicates 80 cents of every dollar raised to funding research and educational programs.
The walk will be held in the The University of Olivet Square. There is no cost to participate in the walk, but registration is encouraged. Registration allows participants to join a team or engage in individual fundraising efforts. Registration is available online at www.afsp.org/olivetcollege through Friday, March 27 at noon; however, in-person registration is available at the walk on March 28 from 8:30-10 a.m. Donations are also being accepted online now through June 30, 2020.
“I am very excited about this year’s Out of Darkness Walk,” said Director of Bands Jeremy Duby. “The event has grown significantly over the past three years, and it has built new and strong partnerships across campus. Most importantly, the event has brought much needed awareness and resources to our students. I am most proud of the fact that this event is student led, and it has grown to be the largest student-led walk and fundraiser on campus having raised over $22,000. The walk is on track to bring in another $15,000 this year. It is always inspiring to see the good that our students do.”
Learn more about the The University of Olivet Out of the Darkness Campus Walk by contacting Jeremy Duby at email@example.com. For more information about The University of Olivet, contact the Office of Admissions at 800-456-7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.