February 6, 2011

At Dining With Diverse Minds dinner, Skorton Urges Outreach For Mental Health

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At the fourth annual Dining With Diverse Minds, held Saturday at Willard Straight Hall, President David Skorton asked his audience to have the bravery to intervene in the life of a troubled friend.

Against the backdrop of a recent report that found fewer than 52 percent of all college freshmen view their emotional health as above average or higher, Skorton urged the audience — the largest ever in the dinner’s history — to “not be afraid to reach out to someone who is obviously in pain and having problems for fear of breaking that barrier.”

“Take a chance on reaching through that barrier. It could mean a lot to a person. It could save a life. It could change a life,” Skorton said.

“I hope every day, all of us will think of every way of how we can reduce stigma, and how we can engage in conversations,” he said. “Even if they’re difficult conversations, even if they’re uncomfortable conversations, [we need to work] toward the greater good.”

Centered around the mental health of marginalized students, this year’s Dining With Diverse Minds dinner drew 145 students, faculty and staff — and many more who were turned away at the door — interested in addressing the question, “How do we create a caring community?”

Skorton asked the audience to remember the importance of sharing with others in public ways, including discussing struggles in their own lives and realizing that one can lower one’s guard and still succeed in life.

He emphasized that the entire Cornell community is experiencing the same external stress from the recession, combined with campus life and the rigor of work at the University.

Skorton added that introducing services, educating the community about illnesses of the brain and reducing the stigma around mental illness are key components of his approach to well-being at Cornell.

Before he finished speaking, Skorton encouraged the audience to support and bolster one another, and express appreciation toward their peers.

“Take care of each other and take care of yourselves,” Skorton said.

After the president’s address, Ordinary People, a student theatre troupe, performed skits about racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination. The rest of the event was dedicated to table discussions.

The dinner was sponsored by Cornell Minds Matter and the African, Latino, Asian, Native American Students Programming Board. It was Skorton’s first time at the event.

“I’m happy that people came and we got substantial and engaging conversations,” said Jayson Jones ’11, president of CMM. “I honestly think this was the best one. President Skorton gave an amazing speech and got us ready for a great conversation.”

Dinners in the past addressed issues including racial identity and fitting in at Cornell. Dining With Diverse Minds is a staple event for CMM and ALANA.

“It is because of President Skorton’s leadership that Cornell has emerged as a leader in mental health,” Catherine Kim ’12, CMM event coordinator, said in her introductory remarks. “It was really symbolic to have the president of Cornell telling us this is important, and everyone needs to be talking about this.”

Original Author: Erin Szulman