How One Student Group is Changing the Conversation

Stigma and taboo. These are just two things that keep individuals suffering from mental illness from getting help.  “Active Minds” helps promotes mental health awareness, education, and advocacy on college campuses.

The U of R’s chapter of Active Minds hosts a variety of different events ranging from guest speakers to a variety of awareness drives throughout the year in order to encourage a dialogue about mental health between members of the campus community.  Chapter members help to facilitate these conversations as self-proclaimed “stigma fighters,” combating misconceptions and advocating for greater awareness of common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Stephanie Mejia ’15, a psychology major minoring in International Relations, and one of the club’s co-presidents, said one of her favorite events is an annual art exposition, named “HeART of Disorder.”  “We don’t just advocate for stomping out stigma; we show the community what stigma looks and feels like through various art forms,” she said.

“Prevent a Meltdown” was another program held last year that focused particularly on the student population.  Hosting an ice cream social right before finals week, one of the most stressful weeks of the semester, the student organization partnered with University Health Services in order to pair sweet treats with information about stress-reducing mechanisms.

The “Tell It to the Wall” campaign, which began at the end of October, offers the campus population an anonymous outlet to share their secrets and issues to the public.  The wall, displayed on the third floor of Wilson Commons, is composed of anonymously submitted posts, a la Post Secret.  That same week, Active Minds partnered again with UHS at the Sex and Chocolate Health Fair in order to discuss mental and sexual health.

Co-president Hayley Harnicher ’15, a psychology major with minors in mathematics and business, is thankful for the opportunities that Active Minds has provided her, from serving on the national Student Advisory Committee to the organization’s national office in Washington D.C.  Beyond this, however, she is most grateful for the clarity that the group’s mission provides.  “The best thing I have learned is that taking care of your mental health, or seeking help if needed, is not a weakness and should be commended,” she said.

The Rochester community is no stranger to the costs of overlooking mental health.  Last year, Samuel Freeling, an undergraduate student from Georgetown D.C., ended his own life.  Sam’s mother created Project S.A.M., which hosts an annual 5K Fun Run, the Spike Classic, to provide support and advocacy for those suffering from mental illnesses like depression.

Last year, the money raised by the Spike Classic was used to fund a new track at Sam’s high school, Georgetown Day High School.  This year, funds raised by the run and through their website will go to Active Minds.  The group plans to use the donation to bring the “Send Silence Packing” display to campus.

“It is important for our student group to support a cause that has directly impacted our peers and the U of R community,” said Mejia.  “It is up to us to continue the conversation and make the student body, faculty, staff, and administration aware of the cause and how we can make a difference in the future of our campus.”

If you, or someone you know, is struggling, the CARE Network exists to identify students who may be in distress. Simply fill out a CARE report or set up an appointment with University Counseling Services. Students can call 585-275-3113 to make an appointment.

Photo credit: Helga Weber/Flickr

Spotlight on Social Sciences Alumni: Sohee Gu


Name:  Sohee Gu

UR Major: Economics

Other UR Majors/Minors: International Relations (Minor)

Additional Education: Currently attending School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Johns Hopkins University, and pursuing a master’s degree in International Economics + International Relations

Current City, State of Residence: Washington, D.C.

How did you choose your major(s)?

In my sophomore year, I was a pre-med student who reluctantly decided to take microeconomics just because it was required for this other public health course I wanted to take – I had no choice. Little did I know, I fell in love with the subject that semester, enough to switch my major and career track completely.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

My best friend and I created an art group called “GU-KT” partially for fun and partially to reflect our thoughts on various social issues via art. For the very first Art Awake, we ended up submitting this room-size installation that symbolized students’ negative biases toward the 19th Ward at the time, and it drew a lot of attention and got media coverage. Activities like this made my life more fun and richer than I ever thought possible- also, now I cannot see him so much after graduation, it has become one of the best memories.

What are some specific skills students should develop during an internship?

How to effectively write and network with people. I find writing in the real world different from writing in college. Also, it is better to start networking now than right before graduation. Meet people, introduce yourself and your interests!

What did you wish you had known before graduating? What would you have done differently?

That there is a world outside of the campus and the city of Rochester. I wish I explored opportunities both in and outside of Rochester- internship, fun activities, travelling, etc.-  more aggressively and taken advantage of them.

What is your opinion regarding graduate school vs. working right after graduation?

I would definitely recommend working after graduation over attending graduate school right away. If you are determined to be in academia, that is one thing- however, as someone who only had a broad idea of what I wanted to do in my life, I gained so much from having that real world experience before going to graduate school.


UR Freshman Brings Tiananmen Protest Leader to Campus

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Two years ago Se Hoon Kim ’16 was sitting in a Barnes and Noble when an employee dropped a book. Curious about the title, My Two Chinas, Kim began to read and felt an immediate connection with the author, Chinese pro-democracy activist Baiqiao Tang.

The book chronicles Tang’s efforts as a student leader organizing pro-democracy demonstrations in Hunan Province in 1989, his arrest and imprisonment during the nationwide crackdown against “counterrevolutionaries” that ensued in China after the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre, and his eventual escape to the United States in 1992.

Intrigued, Kim scoured the Internet for information about Tang, and eventually became friends with him on Facebook.  After some online exchanges, Kim, now a freshman at the University of Rochester, invited Tang visit campus to talk about recent developments in China.

“I feel that one should have a general idea of what’s going on in the international community,” said Kim, who plans to major in international relations and is interested in a career in diplomacy or education. “Tang has been criticizing what’s been happening in the [Chinese] government with facts that are globally known because he believes the Chinese people should be taking control of their own country.”

In an impressive feat for a first-year undergraduate, Kim’s wish was granted when associate professor of economics Michael Rizzo agreed to fund Tang’s Rochester appearance through the Alexander Hamilton Institute of Rochester. The lecture, which has held on Thursday, Nov. 15, attracted a sizeable audience.

Tang, who is a regular contributor for Radio Free Asia and New Dynasty TV, discussed many issues he feels affect the freedom of the Chinese people, citing the size of the government, the “internet police” and the government’s control of the nation’s media, rampant corruption, a biased education system, and an oversized police force.

As the founder of the China Peace and Democracy Federation, an organization dedicated to keeping the Chinese people informed about their government, Tang also made the case for a Chinese democracy. While some question the functionality of democratic institutions in China due to its size; Tang pointed out that India still strives for democracy despite the country’s similarly massive size. He also emphasized that any democratic system put in place in China would not be an exact copy of America’s democratic system, but would instead reflect the interests and values of the Chinese people.

“The people want the Chinese government to change. But if the people’s power is too powerful, the government has a problem,” said Tang.

Tang acknowledged that some Chinese students would disagree with his critique of China and its governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but he gave justification for his stance by stating, “If anyone in this world is not free, I am not free.  So I will fight for freedom.”

Kim believes that the seminar was particularly meaningful for the Chinese students in attendance, especially those who “come from the mainland and don’t learn about this stuff in school.”

“I think this seminar was revolutionary because it opened doors for different opinions. Many students told me it was a success because it helped them to clarify some of the problems they knew existed and that it enabled them to think more deeply,” said Kim, who hopes his career path may lead him to teach international affairs, specifically East Asian studies.

Kim also noted that he welcomed the negative feedback he received as well. “It’s great because it gives me the opportunity to hold a better seminar next time,” he said. “It’s been a huge learning opportunity and I hope to host more events like this in the future.”

In the Photos: Top Right: Baiqioa Tang discusses China at the University of Rochester. Bottom right: Mixed Martial Artist Bruce Kivo, Activist Baiqioa Tang, and Rochester student Se Hoon Kim ’16. Photos courtesy of Caitlin Mack.

Political Science Turns Practical: Sophomore Works as Intern at UN

Univ. Communications – Not only is Lendsey Achudi ’14 the sole undergraduate in the Kenyan Mission to the United Nations, she’s the only female intern. But far from being intimidated, she embraces the chance to make her own mark. As an assistant to Ambassador Dr. Josephine Ojiambo, her responsibilities range from drafting reports to preparing for meetings with high-level diplomats.

Achudi began her internship over winter break, working full-time for three weeks at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. She continues her internship over the spring semester, flying to New York on Wednesday afternoons and coming back to Rochester on Saturdays.

Is it a challenge? “Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. But I’m so grateful for the experience,” said Achudi. “Besides getting into the University of Rochester, this has become the greatest professional experience of my life!”

Her journey started at a conference in Spain called Ending Violence on the Planet and Dysfunction in Families. At the conference, she did her best to stand out. “I sought out the keynote speakers and asked critical questions, just as I’ve been encouraged to do by my professors,” Achudi said. “This type of networking is very important.”

And her outgoing personality paid off. A participant of the conference encouraged Achudi to reach out to the Kenyan delegation to the UN, formally known as the Kenyan Mission, about internship opportunities. She found herself submitting an application and a letter of acceptance arrived soon after.

Achudi’s path was eased by a broad range of resources available to undergraduates, including those from the David T. Kearns Center for Leadership & Diversity in Arts, Sciences & Engineering and the Admissions and Financial Aid Office, which underwrote her travel expenses. “If I found an opportunity, there were offices on campus willing to support me in taking advantage of it,” she explained. She’s grateful to three individuals in particular. “I can’t thank Dean Burdick, Dean Feldman, and Dean Kraus enough. They’ve been incredibly helpful!”

At the UN, Achudi works directly with Dr. Ojiambo, and there is an obvious excitement when she talks about her. “She is a woman working in a male-dominated environment. That’s amazing for a Kenyan and it shows that she is a very hardworking woman of strong character.” Achudi accompanies the Ambassador into high-level meetings, including those with the Kenyan Mission and the United Nations Security Council. With a card that identifies her as a Kenyan Adviser, she relishes her chance to gain insight into the inner workings of the UN.

Achudi stresses her personal development from the experience. Seeing firsthand how diplomatic engagements are conducted has been enormously helpful to her studies as an international relations major. “Theory and practice really can be useful together,” she says. “The internship has made me a more resilient person, as well.” Besides managing her classes, she also has to balance her responsibilities as a Renaissance Scholar, Model UN member, and Freshman Fellow.

Does she have any advice for other students? “U of R students have access to so many opportunities, but they don’t always recognize them. Everyone should go out and take advantage of all the possibilities out there.”

Article written by Dan Wang, a sophomore at Rochester, who studies philosophy and economics. Photos courtesy of Lendsey Achudi.