This spring, The University of Olivet students led the fourth annual Out of the Darkness campus walk in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The walk raises funds for mental health resources, including resources for students on OC’s campus. Over the past three years, OC events have raised more than $30,000, and this year’s walk exceeded its $7,500 goal, totaling nearly $40,000 in fundraising dollars and counting.
The Marching Comets routinely lead the campus walk with support from Gamma Iota Sigma, the psychology program and other partners on campus. This year, students hosted the walk virtually, live streaming special messages as students, staff and others participated in the walk in their own space. Despite the online platform, participants were excited to build a community and offer support for this important cause.
“The Out of the Darkness Walk is an important campus community event, which not only brings people together for healing and supportive conversations, but also brings forward awareness about suicide,” said Director of Bands Jeremy Duby. “I am very proud of our students, particularly within the Marching Comets organization. The work, planning and execution of this event succeeds through the vision of our students. I am proud that this event continues to resonate at Olivet and has led to the development of an on-campus Counseling, Health and Wellness Center.”
Junior and music major Victoria Herson served as walk chairperson this year. She is an active member of the Marching Comets and hopes to become a band director in her future career so she can mentor the next generation of students.
“The walk is meant to spread awareness and provide support for those affected by suicide,” Victoria said. “It is important because we need to erase the negative stigma surrounding suicide in order to better prevent suicide and help those in need. I am passionate about this issue because I believe that no one should have to suffer from poor mental health when there are resources available to help 24/7. We need to have more open conversations about suicide so society can be better informed about their own mental health as well as the health of others.”
Senior Tori John, another member of the Marching Comets, was actively involved in the planning of the walk. As an exercise science major, Tori knows mental health and physical health are equally important, and she hopes to help others feel comfortable when seeking mental health resources.
“Suicide is a leading cause of death, and for many years it was not addressed appropriately,” Tori said. “The AFSP is changing that perspective by providing resources for those in need and funding studies to help us understand those who struggle with and have been lost to suicide. I would like others to know that it is ok to talk about suicide (in appropriate ways). Ignorance is what spreads stigma and hate about suicide and mental illness, but knowledge helps us to understand and help others.”
Senior Leah Miller, history and writing double major, echoes Tori’s sentiment. She notes that mental health is a universal issue that is important to all people, regardless of age, gender, race or background. The best way to advocate for suicide prevention is to use our unique differences and strengths to spread hope.
“Advocacy looks different for everyone, and everyone can do something to help raise awareness,” Leah said. “For my part, I fundraised by doing a music livestream. I played songs on my flute and talked about why suicide prevention awareness is important and urged people to make donations. I was fortunate to hit my both my first goal and a new goal. You might not think that you can do anything to help, but even if you can’t raise money, you can advocate on social media and much more.”
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 thousands-strong community focused on suicide prevention. The campus walks target a key age group of individuals, as suicide is a 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.
“I want others to know that this is an ongoing issue that does not stop after our ceremony is over every year,” Victoria said. “We must keep doing our part to stay connected to the cause, having those tough conversations and getting involved with other AFSP events.”
Learn more about the AFSP or donate to The University of Olivet’s campus walk through June 30. For more information about The University of Olivet, contact the Office of Admission at 269-749-7635 or email@example.com.