Open mic creates platform for students to perform, raises mental health awareness


Evan Robinson-Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Kourtni McNeil, who helped organize the open mic event, delivers one of her original poems. Nine other students performed at the open mic, which was held to raise awareness of mental illness on campus.

Neya Thanikachalam, Reporter

Northwestern students demonstrated the intersection of mental health awareness and art at an open mic event co-hosted by Northwestern Active Minds and The Slam Society on Saturday.

The event featured 10 different performers and was held in the Dittmar Gallery in the Norris University Center. About 30 people attended the event, and performances ranged from spoken word poetry to essays and music performances.

Medill first-year Camille Williams performed a poem she wrote called “The Bongo Man” at the event. Williams told The Daily she uses many different forms of art to express herself, including painting and acting, because she considers her art to be a good outlet for her energetic personality. She added that she enjoys sharing it, which is why she decided to perform at the open mic.

“Art’s a place where I can slow down and just be slow and make something, but also to just make things for me,” Williams said. “So many things all bring me joy and meaning to my life. It really empowers me and I like that it can empower the people too.”

SESP sophomore Christine Hwang, one of the organizers of the event and a member of NU Active Minds, said the performances were meant to open up discussions surrounding mental health issues at Northwestern.

There has been a recent push at NU to increase discussion of and reduce taboos surrounding mental health problems and wellness, and Hwang said this event showed that students were willing to talk about these issues through art.

“It really brings people in the mood and you can maybe relate to people’s stories and experiences in a more emotional way than you would if someone were just talking about it,” Hwang said. “It’s a different connection that you have.”

Creating art can reduce stress and anxiety and increase self-esteem, according to Resources to Recover, an organization focused on helping families affected by mental illness. In fact, many performers and audience members spoke in a discussion following the event about how art helped them mentally focus and relax.

Those who chose to participate in the discussion said it was important to focus on a wellness routine — which could be something as simple as leaving campus for a few hours or using NU mental health resources, such as Counseling and Psychological Services.

Students have criticized CAPS for not providing adequate resources for students with mental illnesses, something participants brought up during the discussion. Students also mentioned the importance of self-expression and responding to academic pressure.

Medill first-year Rhiannon O’Berry, who performed a self-written poem called “Catacombs of the Mind,” spoke during the discussion about how important it is to focus on one’s own mental health and self-care instead of academic achievement.

“I see this in a lot of my friends, and probably in myself, and a lot of people at Northwestern, is to remember to put the person before the student because if you do that being a student will be easy,” O’Berry said. “So if something’s bothering you, the goal shouldn’t be to swallow that down enough that you can get good grades. It’s better to have Bs but be at peace.”

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Twitter: @neyachalam

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