Katie Sims / Sun Staff Photographer

October 3, 2017

New Program Lets Students Open Up to Other Students

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Starting Monday, EARS and CAPS are no longer the only places where Cornell students can discuss what’s been bothering them. Cornell Reflect, a newly founded student organization, aims to provide a platform where students can have open conversations with their peers.

Cornell Reflect plans to host an hour-long meeting every month with the goal of de-stigmatizing student care for mental health. For their first meeting, the organization found about 100 participants who came in to discuss topics including religion, body image and relationships.

“We are trying to provide students with a space where they can speak openly and honestly with each other,” said Maddie Feldman ’19, co-president of Cornell Reflect. “We want everyone to be real. We want to give everyone a chance where they can choose whatever topic they want and know that they won’t be judged.”

With free pizzas and cookies provided, students casually expressed their thoughts while a trained student facilitator moderated the discussion.

Rebecca Nicholson ’18, facilitator of the “jobs” group, said that she was surprised by the openness of the discussion.

“I was happy to hear this kind of conversation [with] people of all different years, because I’ve never been to something like this before,” she said.

By sharing their worries and concerns, students were also able to find out that they are not alone in many things.

“They [could be] younger or older, but people are going through the same struggles: jobs, internships, college, things that anyone can relate to,” said Michelle Severs ’18, one of the attendees at the meeting.

The program is entirely student-run, which encourages participants to be open about their issues without feeling threatened, or having to worry about negative consequences, Feldman said.

Feldman also stressed that Reflect does not aim to replace any professional psychological counsel but only seeks to promote sincere interactions between students and their peers.

“It’s not meant to be counseling, but one of the missions of Cornell Reflect is to de-stigmatize the care for mental health. There really is a big stigma around going to counseling services and talking one-on-one, even with peers,” said Jack Burger ’19, co-president of the organization.

“A lot of times people feel like they need to live out their social media profiles, so they act like everything is perfect on Instagram, but nobody talks about ‘I have so many prelims, I’m so stressed, my relationship is not going well,’” Feldman added.

Cornell Reflect is a local chapter of the Reflect national organization, founded by Jared Fenton during his sophomore year at University of Pennsylvania. It provides trainings for student facilitators and assists in coordinating the meetings at each school.

Fenton, who came for the first meeting at the new Cornell chapter, said that he started Reflect after he noticed the serious mental health crisis among college students and teenagers, many of whom did not have a place to go and tell their stories.

“There’s a stigma about being proud of who you are — it shouldn’t be that way. People need a place to go where they can express themselves and their passions.” Fenton said.

Feldman and Burger, who are both currently in their junior year, hope that the organization can continue even after they graduate from Cornell.

“Even if it’s just one hour every month [for students] to be open with other students, we hope that they can take away from this [program] the ability to be open and honest with their other peers as daily life skill,” Feldman said. “After this, [we hope] they will go back and start conversations with their friends, family and roommates, saying, ‘hey, I’m actually feeling this way. I don’t talk about it very much but I think it’s important that I talk about it.’”

They also look forward to the day when Reflect isn’t needed anymore.

“If we can get to a point where everybody is having open conversations and not wearing their social media profiles in their day-today lives — even if that means we no longer have a need for Reflect on campus — it means that we did our job,” Burger said.