Imagine that you are brand new to The University of Texas at Austin. Along with all of the day-to-day challenges, you are adjusting to the expectations and academic rigor of a world-class university, and you are trying to make friends and connect with campus resources. It is easy to see how these stressors not only add up but compound one another. Among mentors’ greatest goals this semester will be promoting and encouraging their students’ health and wellness and creating opportunities for mental health breaks in and out of their seminars. Here are some recommendations and resources to help you do just that.
Prioritizing Mental Health
Your students are facing the same challenges that you are facing: making connections, stress over staying healthy and keeping loved ones safe, and management of all forms of learning, just to name a few. On top of that, your students are transitioning to the academic rigor and expectations that you’ve come to know here at UT Austin. Here’s how you can support their mental health this semester.
- Check-in with students early and often. Plan to take time in each seminar for students to talk about their highs and lows, what they’re struggling with, and what is going well. Having a space to talk through issues can be a huge help and so can hearing from other students who are also making the transition to UT.
- Plan a seminar around a health-related topic. The Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) and Longhorn Wellness Center (LWC) have created a range of offerings for mentors, including synchronous and asynchronous presentations, user-friendly well-being activities, and self-care techniques. Staff from the CMHC and University Health Services (UHS) have created a student wellness Canvas module with videos, PowerPoints, discussion questions, and activities that are perfect to use in FIG, TrIG, and 360 Connection seminars. Topics include general mental health, self-compassion, mindfulness, community, and gratitude.
- Thrive at UT. Have your students download the Thrive app, a free app developed specifically to enhance the well-being of UT Austin students. The app will send your students inspirational quotes, encouraging videos, and wellness reminders to motivate small changes that can have big, positive impacts on their mental health.
- Be your own best friend. Brené Brown, Texas Ex, and best-selling author, suggests that you “talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” Share a 19-minute TED Talk by UT Austin’s Kristin Neff on self-compassion (she coined the phrase!) with your students or use the LWC’s 11-minute video that they produced in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
SHIFT – Alcohol and Substance Use During COVID-19
After the past year, we know the need for support is greater than ever. Part of shifting the culture of substance use on campus is making sure that your students feel connected to the community, have the tools to make mindful decisions about use, and can recognize the strengths and support that they can lean into as they navigate their first year on the Forty Acres.
- Put Assets into Action: As described in the Current Requirements, mentors will need to show how they have promoted well-being in their weekly seminars. Check out the training video to learn more about the SHIFT program and how your First-Year Interest Group (FIG), Transfer-Year Interest Group (TrIG), or 360 Connection can play an important role in your students’ wellness. Browse the 40 Assets for the 40 Acres and find recommendations for well-being activities in the SHIFT bulletin database.
- Real Talk: Talking to your students about drinking and drug use can be intimidating. Having that discussion with your students – whether in the context of staying safe while tailgating, being mindful of what and how much they drink at parties, or preventing the misuse of prescription drugs as “study aids” – helps to break down the stigma around conversations on substance use. We can’t change the culture if we’re not willing to talk about it!
- Mindfulness and Moderation: These two concepts are central to SHIFT’s mission. Help your students be more mindful about how and why they drink or use substances and share tips to easily reduce potential harms that come with overuse.
Identity Development & Diversity and Inclusion
College is a challenging and uniquely formative time for students to develop a sense of personal identity as they answer the question “Who am I?” Exploring identity is part of the developmental building block of the college experience. We encourage mentors to take advantage of this “roadmap to identity,” including lesson plans and resources to help themselves and their students in the personal self-exploration journey.
Mentors may choose to use the whole lesson plan or individual elements from each resource, depending on your group’s needs.
- Personal Identity Chart, Bias, and Inclusivity: This lesson plan includes activities for mentors and students to fill out personal identity charts, and, through case examples, begin to identify their biases and practice using inclusive language.
- Starburst Identity Chart: Through the use of the Starburst Identity Chart and Concentric Circles activity, students will be able to share examples of how they label themselves and compare and contrast those labels with how others tend to label them. They will also be able to practice respectful and inclusive discussions about their identities. We encourage you to use this guide to facilitate the discussion.
- To adapt the Concentric Circles activity, mentors can pair their students and set the timer for two minutes for the first student to share. After the two minutes are up, they can extend the timer to another two minutes for the other student to share.
- Social Identity Wheel: In this lesson, students will learn about and be able to express aspects of their personal and social identities within small and large groups. These discussions can influence how they want others to view and understand them and help break down stereotypes or biases.
- Be sure to view the facilitator video on the webpage beforehand. It contains specific examples and helpful tips for facilitating successful dialogue.
Identity Activity Resources Webpages
Mentors can use these activities as icebreakers, partner with other seminar activities, or combine them into a whole lesson.
- Exploring Identities Through Technology: Examples of these activities include students sharing an object that represents them, introducing themselves in 250 characters or less, or coming up with an avatar that represents a key aspect of their identity.
- Identity Awareness and Privilege: This list provides discussion prompts such as students sharing one aspect that others may not know about them unless specifically mentioned. They can also reflect on how their past experiences have made them the person they are today. Other activities allow students to check their biases about each other’s identities, such as by having them rate how accurate they think specific identity statements are about other students.
Identity Facilitation Tools
Mentors can reference the following resources and websites for specific activities and tools to help their students explore their identities as first-year college students.
- Identity charts help students reflect on their understanding of themselves and larger communities and the factors that shape these identities.
- Help students discover, explore, and connect with the First Generation Longhorns by sharing events and videos from their website.
- Learn about diversity at UT, including the diversity resources and departments, which can be found through the quick links at the bottom of the linked page.
- The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) works with students, faculty, staff, and community constituents. The Division focuses on four core pillars: campus culture, community engagement, education pipeline, and research.
- Use the handouts from the UT Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) to guide the discussion of these resources. You can also request a presentation to have a GSC representative lead a workshop or discuss their resources in your seminar.
- The Multicultural Engagement Center (MEC) is a student resource office that supports a culturally diverse campus. It helps cultivate a positive campus climate and houses six student-run agencies.
- UT Austin’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) provides a list of resources that mentors can show students, including how to request accommodations and any adaptations needed for online courses. It also provides information for requesting a presentation about SSD resources.