Ivy student conference at Penn focuses on enhancing mental health, well-being

     Students walk along the University of Pennsylvania campus. (NewsWorks file photo)

    Students walk along the University of Pennsylvania campus. (NewsWorks file photo)

    Students from the eight Ivy League schools will gather at the University of Pennsylvania this weekend for a first of its kind event.

    Called “Unmasking the Ivy League,” 80 undergraduates will join together to share ideas for improving mental health. Spurred in part by a wave of suicides on college campuses, the conference seeks to break down stigmas that often surround mental illness and prevent some students from seeking help.

    “At Penn, there’s this idea of putting on a face that everything is perfectly fine, that you are the chair of five different groups, and you are excelling in all your classes, which is really unrealistic,” said Mabel Oviedo, a senior English major who helped organize the three-day event.

    Students will attend workshops on topics including substance abuse; gender, sexual and cultural identity; self-advocacy; and managing expectations. These issues aren’t unique to Ivy League students, Oviedo said, but there is a sense of competition that may be more prevalent to these student bodies.

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    “When you put a group of really ambitious students who have done amazing things, who have always been told they are No. 1, and you place them in an environment with each other, there is going to be that feeling of ‘am I good enough?'” she said.

    Penn, while not alone, has faced a wave of suicides in the past three years, prompting the school to create a task force and expand its mental health services. Students will spend time sharing ideas about what has improved the mental health climate on their campuses, and what can be improved, Oviedo said.

    “Because what might have worked at Penn could also work at Princeton, but we just aren’t sharing that information right now,” she said.

    The event’s keynote speaker is Dior Vargas, a Latina mental health advocate who received the White House Champions of Change honor for her work on disability advocacy.

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