Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Cornell Health on March 29, 2021. Wahieñhawi Hall, the new Community Liaison for Indigenous Students, is working to expand mental health outreach on campus.

February 3, 2022

New Community Liaison Expands Mental Health Access for Indigenous Students

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As Cornell Health’s first Community Liaison for Indigenous Students, Wahieñhawi “Hawi” Hall has been working to instill hope, healing and health in the Cornell community, particularly among the Indigenous student population. Also a clinical social worker, Hall started these positions at Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in October 2021. 

As a Community Liaison —  a new CAPS position — Hall works with four other staff members to better connect with students across campus. These include Kimberly VanNorman, Community Liaison for LGBTQ+ students; Jacque Tara Washington, Community Liaison for Black Students; Qiana Watson, Community Liaison for First Generation/Low Income Students; and Anastasia Zyuban, Community Liaison for International Students.

“Our goal is to meet with stakeholders in the communities we serve, help bring information about mental health to these communities and, in turn, share information back with CAPS about the needs of the communities,” Hall wrote in an email to The Sun.

This semester, Hall is developing several outreach programs for Indigenous students on campus. Throughout the spring semester, she will co-facilitate a therapy group for Indigenous students and a Talking Circle — a traditional Indigenous communication practice — with a community partner from the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program.

Hall describes herself as “a child of Mohawk and Cherokee heritage.” Born on the Onondaga Nation, she grew up immersed in the values and beliefs of her Onkwehoñhwe culture, which she regards as an important part of the work she does. 

“Having grown up within Onkwehoñwe, ‘the Original People,’ communities, I feel passionate about working with Indigenous people,” Hall wrote. “Continuing on with our traditions, culture and heritage is not simply done with one or two actions or behaviors — it is a way of viewing and interacting with the world on a regular basis.”

Before coming to Cornell, Hall earned her B.A. from Guilford College and her Masters in Social Work from Syracuse University. She has dedicated her career to working with Indigenous communities and recently moved from Akwesasne, N.Y. — a Mohawk Nation territory — to Ithaca with her family.

Hall stressed the importance of Indigenous representation in mental health services.

“The challenges and adversity that often comes with being an Indigenous person within the U.S. borders can lead to unique difficult​ies navigating the college experience,” she wrote.

Colby Yazzie ’24, co-chair of the Cornell chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, expressed his similar experiences  facing these challenges. Having grown up on the Navajo Nation, Yazzie cited differences in the social structures of his reservation and Cornell’s campus as a stressor.

“Opening up to non-Indigenous people is sometimes very hard for those of us who come from a place where Indigenous people are the majority,” Yazzie wrote in an email to The Sun. “​​Having Ms. Hall available makes me feel that, when I need an ear to listen to, she would be understanding and helpful.”

Yanenowi Logan ’24, co-chair of Native American and Indigenous Students at Cornell and member of the Seneca and Mohawk tribes, echoed Yazzie’s frustration.

“You can’t relate personal experiences of being Indigenous with someone who’s not Indigenous,” Logan said. “No matter how hard you try, there’s not going to be that connection.”

Logan added that Hall’s support has been especially meaningful after fall semester’s bomb and shooting threats, which added to the stresses that Indigenous students and students of color on campus face.

“It’s the best thing we could have asked for this semester,” Logan said.

Hall’s new role emphasizes cultural understanding in health services, a value she has carried with her throughout her career and looks forward to instilling at Cornell.

“Cornell Health is showing Indigenous students that we recognize that the needs of this specific population are unique and important,” Hall wrote. “Being hired as the first Community Liaison for Indigenous Students is an honor.”