Two years ago, when Cassidy Gallegos (LSOE ’16) was a freshman, it wasn’t Gasson Hall’s stunning architecture or the crazy weekends in the Mods that concerned her the most about Boston College. Instead, she truly took to understand the nature of the average BC student: ever-striving for straight A’s, working a part-time job, applying for internships and joining five different clubs, all with a wide smile on his or her face, and not a single trace of struggle left behind for anyone to detect.
She immediately recognized that this mask of “happiness” that BC students insisted on wearing was not healthy, and decided to do something about it. She spent the latter half of her freshman year and the beginning of her sophomore year to establish a chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) at BC. Today, she is the director of TWLOHA and the head of Mental Health in the Student Initiatives Department of UGBC.
When Michael Granatelli (A&S ’15) was a freshman, he was that BC student that Gallegos described, and it took him until the summer after his sophomore year to realize it. He knew he couldn’t be the only one who felt like he had the world on his shoulders, with no outlet through which to express his feelings. In the spring of his junior year, he decided to reach out to Gallegos and propose what is now coming to you this spring: BC CHATS.
BC CHATS is a campaign through UGBC’s Be Conscious initiative that provides a safe space for students to talk with other student mentors about any sort of stress that they may be going through in their day-to-day lives. Through an application process, a group of students will be chosen to become mentors or conversation leaders. These leaders’ stories will be posted on the Be Conscious website, where other students can then choose a mentor who they think would best fit them.
“The bottom line goal is that we want this to be like a stepping stone for people who don’t know if seeking professional help is what they need or what they want,” said Granatelli. “We just want to start having conversations about their own state of mind, to make it less stigmatized on campus.”
Referring to BC Chats as a "peer counseling" program is something that Gallegos and Granatelli have been grappling with, but they currently use the term for lack of better word. “I shy away from saying peer counseling because we don’t want to give the impression that it is a substitute [for professional help],” added Gallegos. “It’s more about generating honest dialogue and conversation on campus.”
The mission of BC CHATS is not to serve as a “counseling service,” but rather to provide a space where students can open up, and engage in a conversation without stigma. It is a resource for everyone and anyone who simply wants to speak with someone who will listen, without judgment.
“You don’t have to have a mental illness to be able to talk about mental health,” Gallegos stressed.
Although it will be a while until we begin to see a true shift in the way that students view mental illness on campus, small initiatives such as BC CHATS and various other programs through the Be Conscious initiative are making huge strides in the push towards a healthier student body.
If you are interested in becoming a BC CHATS mentor, you can apply here by Sunday November 30. If you are looking to have conversation about mental health, keep an eye out for the program beginning in January at the start of the spring semester.