Mental Health Needs a Place in The HBCU Curriculum

It’s not a typical homecoming season for Historically Black Universities this year. Many lives have changed drastically due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The year has also revealed many underlying issues with police brutality and oppression against the African American community. It will soon be a year that the world has suffered millions of lost, isolation from loved ones, and an elevation trauma. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd’s death was captured on camera by bystanders. The recordings showed multiple angles of the officers’ applying full bodily force on his back and neck. Five months later, there are charges against the officers, but there are also numerous more cases such as Breonna Taylor and Walter Wallace Jr. The state of the world today has an impact on mental health in the Black community. 

Mental wellness has become a trending topic in the African American talk space. There are numerous wellness influencers, therapist, yoga gurus all emerging to the forefront. Although meditation and art therapy are popular practices, it easily recognizable that it is unfamiliar to black people as alternative health methods. Typically, a doctor’s visit and a prescription are all known for getting back your health. However, other factors exist in the rejuvenation of the mind, body, and soul. It is beneficial to become aware of your being as an individual and not by what you have experienced. Maintaining your mental health takes time and skills that aren’t typically a part of the curriculum. Should this become inclusive in the college curriculum, it will help manage anxieties and other factors of mental wellbeing.

Created by: @Sweetsmedia_

There is a history of not seeking mental help and keeping your business to yourself. Not allowing yourself to talk to someone about your experiences, good or bad, can become unhealthy. Imagine not knowing none of this at the ages 18-30 on a college campus, when life rushes in a whirlwind of hardships. For many, it can be younger than that. In the movies, college looks like a dream come true. You may see the characters shed a few tears if you’re watching Stomp the Yard. What you will not see is the anxieties and pressures existing on HBCU campuses or the surrounding environment. In real life, college life isn’t any better than life home in the hood. Struggling to eat, poor living conditions, learning difficulties, lack of resources are all of the same ways of living for many students at home. Traumatic experiences can result in eternal memories that affect a student’s focus in class. Depression, PTSD, and social anxiety are some of the most prominent mental health struggles among black students. According to the authors of, “Family, Friends, and 12-month PTSD among African Americans”, social relationships are prime in understanding mental health in the black community.

According to experts and professionals associated with Historically Black Universities, the student body deserves more access and resources to help treat mental health conditions. It was a joy reconnecting with a student advisor and Shaw University department head, Dr. Cassandra Mitchell, Ph.D. Working remotely still has her just as busy as she would be working on campus as she has decided to volunteer for the campus task force, CCRT- The College Campus Response Team. What similar behaviors were you able to recognize on campus compared to black neighborhoods? “What I see most is self-medicating as well as domestic disputes. We try to put on events and do PSAs to alert students as to some of the downfalls resulting from unhealthy behaviors”. 

Dr. Mitchell has always been a leader and dedicated herself to giving back to her community. Growing up, her parents would keep her involved in civic activism, allowing her to witness first-hand what opportunities her peers and those after her deserved. Alumni of the University of South Carolina, Dr. Cassandra Mitchell was a member of multiple campus organizations, Presidential Intern, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., MAP (minority assistance peer for Student Affairs), Omicron Delta Kappa (a leadership honor society), The Carolinian Society, the student chapter of the NAACP, and a local organization for African American students called “Afro.


St. Augustine University Graduate

There is no question that she can connect and relate to the students on campus at Shaw University with her background. She is also a mother to college students. While finishing her senior year, Cassandra lost both her grandparents a month apart. A devastating time during her most difficult English course, she attempted to take an exam after receiving the new and failed. Luckily, her professor found out about her loss and explained the importance of mental wellbeing, also allowing her to retake the exam. Her professor taught her a valuable lesson about grieving.

At a time, a younger Dr. Mitchell will unknowingly exemplify a few common traits of poor mental wellness, such as lack of expression and emotional suppression, which many students battle today. There isn’t adequate health knowledge on HBCU campuses, according to Howard University. Howard University held a study recording the health knowledge of Black students and how it translates into actual practice. Until there is mandatory action put behind mental health practice on campus, the struggle will continue. There is a need for more action-driven staff and faculties like Dr. Cassandra Mitchell. Although there are limited counseling resources at Shaw University, the faculty and staff are doing their best. Dr. Mitchell will teach a new class in Spring 2021, Conflict Resolution, and Mediation. Then the course will help the imbalance of going from 0-100 real quick like Drake.

The opinion of a student like Brianna McCoy gave The Sweet Spot Media a chance to see the millennial perspective. Brianna is soon to be a double HBCU degree holder as she is currently attaining her second degree at Clark Atlanta University. She is also an alumnus of St. Augustine University. Brianna explains how facing adversity has impacted her while pursuing her education. Always maintaining her spiritual connection explains her having a healthy mind to persist through the obstacles. Brianna can relate to her peers in more ways than meets the eye. With an optimistic and sometimes naïve outlook on life, it is surprising Brianna looks and is unbothered. Wearing a big beautiful smile Brianna gracefully opened up about suffering hardships and seeking therapy for herself.


St. Augustine University Graduate & CAU student

Encouraging others to seek help and begin to find peace has become a part of Brianna’s path. Lily Rose, LLC. Is where Brianna helps guide those seeking a deeper understanding of who they are.  Although Brianna is a full supporter of mental wellness and is a student at an HBCU, she does not believe adding it to the curriculum is something these campuses are fully willing to accept. Check out this episode of Tapped In with The Sweet Spot featuring Brianna and her understanding of tackling mental health on Historically Black College campuses.

Brianna McCoy steps in The Sweet Spot

Therapy is becoming more and more common in the Black community. You would usually hear the opposite, but the discussion is igniting action. The stigma in the Black community is to keep people out of your business and to be inviolable. Often being strong on the outside is equal to becoming weak in the mind. Seven million African Americans reported mental illness this past year, but over half will not ask for help. Suppression of thoughts and feelings in an attempt to regulate your emotions to make them more manageable. There will always be unwanted feelings and memories and typically traumatic ones for African Americans to forget. For decades, there have been no mental health resources, with most conditions beginning early as ten years old, and according to WHO, that leads to suicide as the second-highest cause of death for ages 15 to 29 in the U.S.


St. Augustine University Graduate

The dehumanization and cultural trauma exhibited in afro communities are part of years-long experiences that have surpassed many other groups of people. Transgenerational trauma exchange is a component of why there are early age depression and mental disorders. Students are mainly unaware of their stress disorder until they face new adversity. Final exams, social organizations, academics, and adult life can all be overwhelming for the average young adult, causing a breakdown or mental blockage. The publication, “Engaging African Americans in Therapy: Integrating a Public Policy and Family Therapy Perspective“, it explains a few reasons how therapy engagement is on a low level for African Americans. According to the publication, location, politics, and health care insurance are the three factors hindering proper mental care in urban areas. There is also a lack of trust towards therapy practice from the African American community due to the generational history of oppression, segregation, racism, and more. 

Dr. Cromwell Ed.D. knows what the Black community needs when it comes to mental health. First and foremost, relatability is dire for the culture even to consider opening-up to a therapist. Most Black people consider their white counter-parts the enemy after 400 years of exemplified oppression and systematic racism built to tear down their roots and community. Dr. Cromwell developed an idea to merge therapy into Hip-Hop and has now established a black-owned and operated practice. A Shaw University and North Carolina Central University alumni, Dr. Cromwell has committed his life to be of service to the African American mental wellbeing.

A suicide attempt survivor evolved into a mental health care worker wherein 2018, only 5 percent of African American students studied graduate-level psychology. Before becoming booked and busy with his practice DRC Therapy, Dr. Cromwell worked for a small-time within the Shaw University counseling department. He acknowledges that HBCU’s deserve better Cromwell says, “There should be a psychological evaluation upon entrance to the university to determine if there is a need for medication or if it is a need for therapy.” His junior year in college was the first time he experienced a psychological breakdown after not knowing how to process his peers having two-parent families. It became difficult after moving to a place where the family dynamic is closer than usual. It’s a cultural shock for any student, so it is wise to address the issue with first-year students to help proceed through college with less trauma. 


St. Augustine University Graduate

Dr. Cromwell has plans to expand beyond his current office. Soon he will be opening up his agency where you can find the right therapist for your needs. The African American community deserves more opportunity, which is why Dr. Cromwell is giving back through supplying jobs for and partnering with Black businesses. One of his first hires for his agency is Dr. Edward Coffey, The Emerging Hip-Hop Therapist, nodded in agreement with Cromwell’s suggestions.

Dr. Coffey expressed how high the demand is currently for a black therapist as the discussion about mental health awareness continues to spread wide. Inspired by his good friend, he is also a practitioner of Hip-Hop therapy and advocates how it helps communicate to the African American community. Dr. Coffey expands on giving back by offering free services or discounted rates for the community. Providing time to someone who suffers from depressions and anxiety deserves help regardless of their income. The best part for Coffey is bringing his clients to heightened awareness, and he believes he can use Hip-Hop with HBCU students to help them open up before applying other methods.

According to Dr. Coffey, stigma is the biggest issue in the African American community, making it difficult to be confident in openly practicing mental wellness. 

“We think we can pray our way out of everything, it’s more than just that.” – Edward Coffey

Keeping your business to yourself and reverting to emotional suppression strategies is what blocks people from utilizing a qualified therapist. The fear of being judged, manipulated or disrespected as you enter a space of vulnerability can be overwhelming for many people. Moving away to college and attempting to live a new life as an adult is prime time to talk about your experiences and emotions. Raleigh’s Triangle Area has a total of 7 Historically Black Colleges within an hour’s distance, putting DRC in a prime location for students seeking professional help. 

@QuanVuitton St. Augustine Graduate

If you are a student (everyone welcome) near the Raleigh area in need of mental health care, you can call Edward Coffey at (919) 395-6945 Or Dr. Cromwell at (919) 332-9294. Speak up and talk to your college administration about their plan to tackle mental health on your HBCU campus. 

Happy Homecoming Season. 

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