Campus culture, starting with the mud pit at orientation and continuing past graduation, isn’t just something that Redeemer students receive. It’s what our students build while they are here. Selena Wikkerink ’17 and Vanessa Eisses ’18 are two students doing their utmost to shape campus culture for the better and to help steer us toward shalom. Each have felt compelled to respond to diffcult issues facing Canadian university campuses: mental health and sexual violence. They’ve sought both to understand these concerns better and to act, encouraging the Redeemer campus to do the same with two awareness weeks.
The goal: to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Redeemer student Selena Wikkerink is putting this into practice on her own campus.
Studies show that people are hit with mental health problems and illnesses fairly early in their lives, with more than 28 per cent of people in their twenties experiencing a mental illness in a given year. Faculty, staff and students in the Redeemer community need to be able to respond.
Wikkerink took on the role of mental health program coordinator in the summer of 2016, with the intent of learning more about mental health, its effects on Redeemer’s campus and how she could contribute to positively shaping campus culture. “To me, mental health issues are what I’ve always been passionate about and wanted to know more about,” says Wikkerink, a fourth-year psychology and English major. With that in mind, Selena intends to continue to work towards building a community of love and acceptance.
Wikkerink planned and ran week-long mental health initiatives this past October as part of her role as the term’s mental health student representative. From setting up a movie night in the Rec Centre for students to laugh and appreciate the late Robin Williams in action, to helping students de-stress with yoga, to making just about everybody’s day with a puppy room — Wikkerink’s efforts went a long way to ease the weariness and soul-soreness of many students.
“The Redeemer forum was a way for students to have a voice.”
Students were also encouraged to submit their personal mental health stories to an anonymous online board. “The Redeemer forum,” Wikkerink says, “was a way for students to have a voice, and to give power to those voices.” These stories were posted all over the school, alongside Bible verses and encouragement. Students could take a break from their own stresses and draw strength from people who were going through the same things that they were. Topics such as depression and anxiety were not censored but treated respectfully and seriously.
This November, paper butterflies were spread across campus. Those butterflies were a tangible reminder — taken back to dorm rooms and tucked into bags — of the messages of hope and support shared during Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
The week started with a prayer night and a panel on emotional and physical boundaries. After that, the Redeemer community gathered for a chapel service dedicated to the topic, with Redeemer student Elise Arsenault writing and reading a spoken-word poem.
The week was planned and run by Vanessa Eisses, a third-year student with a psychology major and missions minor, appointed student representative for Redeemer’s sexual violence awareness program in the summer of 2016. This experience, Vanessa says, was invaluable for her future, as she feels strongly called to help and counsel people.
“There were conversations opening up,” Eisses says, “asking how we as a community can do this right.” Because of her work, more and more students have been equipped to recognize signs of sexual violence in any environment, advised on how to respond, and shown where they can find support at Redeemer and in the Hamilton community. Since awareness week, Eisses has hung posters with contact information for sexual violence support across campus and shared information intended both to educate and offer support on Redeemer’s internal website.
“Even if only one person benefits from my efforts,” Eisses says, smiling, “then I think the whole thing was a success.”