US Education Secretary visits NCCU to talk mental health

The Central University of North Carolina (NCCU) is a national model for building systemic support to address students ’mental health, according to the country’s top education official.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona noted the NCCU’s mental health service during a visit with Gov. Roy Cooper to the Durham campus on Wednesday.

“One of the most important things that interested me was the culture of inclusion,” Cardona said. “Before we talk about support, multi-level support, we need to make sure that this environment is inclusive – to make people feel welcome here, you feel appropriate, there is a group with which you communicate. The best form of support is prevention. “

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NCCU students shared during the visit how the university’s holistic mental health services support them, but told Cardon and Cooper that they needed more from state leaders. Specifically, students requested additional funding for historic black colleges and universities (HBCU), early opportunities for social emotional learning, and programs that focused on black students and trauma.

Cardona’s visit comes amid rising threats of violence against HBCU. Last month, the NCCU was one of many HBCUs across the country that received the threat of an explosion. This week, vandals damaged a mural on the sidewalk at Shaw University in honor of black life by painting it with the name of a white nationalist group.

Students who spoke with Cardona and Cooper during the roundtable encouraged leaders to pay attention to how colored people feel an increased risk to their mental health.

“If I could ask you to return something to Washington, don’t forget about the HBCU,” said Sherica Harper, a behavioral and social studies student at Cardone, noting long-standing funding disparities between the HBCU and predominantly white universities. “We are the future, we have always been your innovators, and we need adequate funding.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Gov. Roy Cooper laugh during Cardona’s visit to the NCCU on Wednesday, Feb. 23, to talk about students’ mental health. Rupen Phoforia / EducationNC

When Cardona took notes, students talked about the importance of forgiving student loans, focusing on supporting black men and wanting to teach more “life skills” in schools.

Cardona said the NCCU program is innovative in that it offers continuous mental health support and promotes student interaction with services in a variety of ways. However, one student said he would like to learn active emotion coping strategies when he was young.

Such a strategy is included in Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and NCCU Vice Rector for Student Affairs Angela Coleman said she would like the Federal Department of Education’s leadership on SEL standards for students.

While the students spoke, Coleman kept her notes, later saying that although she is proud of what the NCCU has put in place, the university is always trying to better meet the needs of its students.

“I have the privilege of leading a department that provides innovative and, I would say, cutting-edge services to our students,” Coleman said. simply provide them with the necessary services from a holistic and comprehensive point of view. ”

NCCU has invested in the Student Health and Welfare Program (SHAW), which it says features a wide range of services – from prevention to tertiary intervention – as well as its holistic and inclusive approach.

“We are here to support the holistic well-being of students,” said Mika Griffin, assistant vice-rector for health and well-being. “So they can be successful while they’re here, but we also instill in them behaviors that strive for health so that after school they still make more informed decisions.”

Griffin added that the NCCU’s role in this effort, as one of North Carolina’s 10 accredited HBCUs, is important, “especially since we serve mostly African-American students and, as you know, demographics have some of the worst health outcomes.”

Griffin said much of the initiative was before the pandemic, but the past two years have stressed the need for these services – as well as inclusive spaces where students can gather with each other.

Cardona’s visit is part of an effort to talk about the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) and how it can be used to support mental health services for students across the country. In May, Cooper also donated $ 5 million in federal funding to combat COVID-19 to support mental health initiatives in the UNC system, in state public colleges, and in independent colleges and universities. This funding was part of North Carolina’s share of another federal relief, the Governor’s Emergency Aid (GEER).

Rupen Fafaria

Rupen Foforia is a reporter on equity and differences in education at EducationNC. It exists to cover, including telling stories of problems that have not been reported.

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