Backpacks cover SBCC, bringing awareness to student suicide

Miguel Cruz, president of the Still I Rise Writing Club (seated third from right), leads a discussion of depression and suicide during a writing circle on Tuesday, Sept. 20, during the “Send Silence Packing” event in front of the Luria Library. “I’m safe here; I feel loved,” said Cruz.

ANGELA ROSE BICKMANN, Channels Staff

Students, faculty, club members and volunteers all gathered around a display of 1,100 backpacks, each representing the life of a college student lost to suicide every year.

City College’s Wellness Connection Club invited Active Minds, a national nonprofit for student mental health, to bring suicide awareness through their “Send Silence Packing” exhibit this Tuesday on West Campus.

“We are here to reduce the stigma around mental health,” said Dani Lukens, Active Minds road staffer.

Several backpacks displayed were donated by families who lost a relative to suicide. These were laid out on the lawn with a description and story the student it belonged to.

“When I’m reading it, I take myself there,” said Student Javier Gomez.

Members and volunteers of Active Minds, City College counselors, and Wellness Club members stood alongside the display to support the emotionally engaged.

Despite the difficulties the job entails, Lukens appreciates the stories bypassing students share with her. Members of the organization take turns traveling around the country, visiting college campuses to spark conversation to help students affected by suicide.

Active Minds was founded by Alison Malmon, who lost her brother to suicide when he was a college student. Malmon’s goal is to provide support and information on suicide prevention programs and resources in hopes of leaving a lasting change within schools, workplaces and communities.

“We are all old enough to face this,” said Student Mckenna Robles.

In the midst of the display, City College’s writing club, Still I Rise, gathered those around them into a circle. Students took turns speaking, allowing themselves to be vulnerable for the event.

The amount of emotions erupting at the exhibit didn’t surprise Nichole Riofrio, co-president of the Wellness Connection Club.

“In college, people are most likely to have their first psychotic break,” she said.

The Club educates themselves and others about these topics in order to reach out and help students before their stress gets to that level of intensity. Riofrio and the club knew bringing Active Minds to the City College had the potential to provoke emotions surrounding suicide.

City College is the only California Community College to host the organization.

Roxane Pate, Wellness Connection Program Advisor, believes “Send Silence Packing” was an incredible success. She noticed an escalation in the number of students interested in getting involved with the club and separate counseling sessions.

Active Mind’s visit to City College was intended to inspire students to reach out to one another and take advantage of the available support systems.

“Our club does so many outreach events that we will continue this message,” said Pate.