Women's mental health series focuses on overall well-being of students

First-ever series aims to help students during stressful, depressing winter term

By: Mia Isaacson

Posted: 2/2/10

By Mia Isaacson

The Daily Barometer

Media Credit: Billy Newman
Ayesha Nagra from Counseling and Psychological Services speaks to students at the Women's Center about sustaining positive mental health and overall well-being, especially throughout the winter months.

The Women's Center is hosting a series of events focused on women's mental health. The Women's Mental Health Series, which began on Jan. 26 and extends through March 4, aims to develop and sustain positive mental health in many aspects of women's lives.

The series includes multiple events that cover a wide array of issues in many different environments. Many of these events, such as "Mindfulness and Life Balance for Women" and "Joy Jars: Affirmations and Pick-Me-Ups," are targeted to women on campus, but everyone is welcome to attend.

The series, sponsored by the Women's Center, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Pride Center, is "geared toward giving women the tools to be successful," said Heather Nicole Saladino, a graduate student who supervises the Women's Center staff. "There are more women in college today than ever before."

As of November 2009, the student body is 47 percent women, both undergraduate and graduate.

"It's a good thing that more women are succeeding, but we also have increased pressures like dealing with family pressures and work-life balance," Saladino said.

Saladino was a former Resident Director at the University of Minnesota Morris. During that time, she saw a lot of women who had a hard time dealing with issues ranging from sex and relationships to having to deal with negative images of college women.

"A lot of women really, really struggled," she said.

This is the first time the Women's Center has put on a women's mental health series, and there is a reason it is occurring during winter term.

"Winter term is a stressful term," Saladino said.

"We're looking at all women, all college students no matter what their age," said Neha Neelwarne, a junior in business and the marketing coordinator for the Women's Center.

Monday's discussion, "Gender Identity Development," focused on societal forces that affect female gender identity. Psychologists Michele Ribeiro and Ayesha Nagra from CAPS were the main speakers at the event.

The conversation consisted of gender identity theory and how the ideas and psychology regarding gender identity are formed and how they have progressed.

"Someone decided what women were supposed to be like, and only a small percentage of women actually fit that," Nagra said. "Gender is socially constructed in very insidious ways."

Nagra went on to explain that gender identity is important for women, especially in an academic setting.

"It's a time where most people differentiate from their parents," Ribeiro said. "It's a time of building your own sense of community around your values and decisions. Being in an academic setting gives us a good chance to reflect."

Participants shared personal stories of their gender roles in terms of their childhoods. They discussed the messages they received as children and young adults in their households and society. These experiences even crossed cultural borders.

"Gender identity development is pretty important for everybody because we're in college and people are trying to figure out who they really are," said Neelwarne.

"I have the freedom to be whoever I want to be here and do whatever I want to do, whereas back home in India, I would be seen as weird and people would come down hard on me if I decided to dye my hair pink. The standards for women are much more rigid than for men. I don't see so much of that here."

The series is experiencing a lot of positive response from women on campus. Nicole Hedden, a freshman in liberal studies with an option in new media communications, learned about the event on the OSU Events Calendar.

"I came to learn about what exactly gender identity development means and how the background of culture plays into that," Hedden said.

Hedden also said that, by attending the discussion, she learned how important it is for women to come together and talk about the issues that affect them.

"I've always been more of a tomboy. I've always fit in with guys, and it made me realize that's OK," she said.

"The mission of the Women's Center is to advocate, educate and support everyone, and this program is one of many projects that we initiated that exemplifies our mission," Saladino said.

More information about the upcoming events through the series can be obtained by calling the Women's Center at 737-3186 or going online to the Women's Center website at oregonstate.edu/womenscenter.