Story and photos by Cassie Clark / Contributing Writer
Middle Tennessee State University hosted the “Communities Surviving Together: Communicating and Working for Social and Racial Justice During a Pandemic” outdoor fair event on Thursday, Sept. 23, as part of MT Engage Week.
The event took place in the Student Union Commons, where around 35 different on and off-campus organizations set up booths to spread awareness about resources regarding racial, gender and economic inequalities during the pandemic.
The event was organized by the university’s Communications department’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, along with many other campus sponsors.
“It was coming back after the pandemic that inspired this event and thinking about all of the challenges faced by people from different marginalized groups over the pandemic,” said Roberta Chevrette, Assistant Professor of Communications Studies at MTSU and an organizer of the “Communities Surviving” event.
L’Oreal Stephens with the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, said she “loved” the event. The PCSW is an organization committed to doing “anything that improves the status of women,” Stephens said.
“We work on pay equity issues; we help faculty implement women into their curriculum with curriculum grants. We helped put the lactation station on campus for nursing moms.” Stephens said that the PCSW likes to partner with different organizations on their projects. The PCSW booth had “snacks of encouragement,” which were cookies with stickers that said, “Keep going!” on the wrapper.
MTSU Counseling Services were at the event as well. The first step to receiving counseling is giving Counseling services a call, said Melanie Magliacano, Staff Counselor at MTSU. “We can get people in typically within 48 hours,” she said. After that, students will go in for a screen meeting to meet with licensed professionals to assess what kind of treatment is right for them. MTSU Counseling Services offers short-term psychiatry.
Those who could benefit from short-term psychiatry would be “someone experiencing depressive symptoms or symptoms of anxiety, whether it’s been going on for a couple of months, maybe a year…and they’ve just never had the opportunity or never wanted to look into it before,” said Carolyn Jackson, Staff Counselor at MTSU. Counseling Services also help students get connected with services outside of campus.
MT Lambda is an organization on campus for LGBTQ+ students and allies. “We are a fun social group, activist group and informational group, where people can come from all backgrounds and feel accepted. We love everybody and want everyone to join us,” said Zofia Yandle, Webmaster for MT Lambda. The group focuses on political activism, education on LGBT+ issues, community engagement and social support.
Community Helpers of Rutherford County, a non-profit organization that focuses on providing financial assistance to at-risk families, was also at the event. Community Helpers assists families with rent, utilities, medication and even dental extraction, among other services. The organization recently changed its grant guidelines to now cover on-campus apartments. “We are able to help with up to $500 towards rent or $300 towards utilities,” said Taisha Murray, a caseworker for Community Helpers.
Doors of Hope is an off-campus organization that assists women experiencing homelessness, addiction and incarceration. The organization works in 63 counties throughout Tennessee. Doors of Hope has a “prerelease” program that allows them to go into facilities where women are incarcerated and help them with “life coaching, recovery coaching and mental health,” explained Keli Plaisance, a Social Work student at MTSU and intern at Doors of Hope. The organization also has resources for women after release, including transitional housing, assistance in finding a job and transportation.
Along with several resources, there was an interactive art installation at the event designed by the Student Art Alliance. Students were encouraged to write their experiences of living through a pandemic on a ribbon and tie them to the installation.
Accompanying on and off-campus organizations, there were many MTSU academic departments at the event, including the Communications department and the Social Work department. “It’s a good way for students to find organizations and to find a minor if they’re not sure what they want to do,” said Angelina Soto, a sophomore at MTSU.
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