The start of the fall semester means more to Georgia State students than just the excitement of new classes, parties and football season.
Along with back-to-school festivities, the delicate balance of maintaining self-care and juggling academic and social pressure return for thousands of young adults across Atlanta.
A growing number of young Americans face obstacles like depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses that turn day-to-day tasks into exhausting hurdles. For a number of college students, transitioning from long summer days to all-night study sessions results in elevated stress and anxiety levels.
Luckily, clubs and organizations are sprouting up across Atlanta, including Georgia State campuses, that encourage all students to get involved, stay educated and overcome obstacles in the classroom and the outside world.
B.L.A.C.K. excellence in Atlanta neighborhoods
A recent study by the Steve Fund revealed that, across the nation, students of color — particularly black students — feel significantly less emotionally or academically prepared for college than their white peers. Along with higher rates of school-related stress and anxiety, the report showed that young black adults are the least likely out of all surveyed races to seek help or treatment for depression, anxiety, self-harm and other mental health conditions or disorders.
Building Leaders and Cultivating Knowledge, or B.L.A.C.K., at Georgia State is fighting against these odds to elevate the confidence and skills of black students across campus. The organization maintains a mission to defy stigmas against mental illness and other obstacles in the black community and find pride in Atlanta’s surrounding neighborhoods.
“Black leadership and empowerment is important because, simply, if we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything,” said Mikeale Davis, secretary of B.L.A.C.K. “So by black people taking a stand, a true change can be made in the community. Whether it’s through the power of voice or doing good deeds, we have the power. We just have to figure out the ways in which it should be used.”
The organization uses volunteer services and local outreach as a platform for the black community at Georgia State and throughout Atlanta to come together as an all-inclusive family, giving back to bigger causes and promoting black excellence. Through celebration of culture and community, B.L.A.C.K. tirelessly works to end societal stigmas and empower the black community from the ground up.
“If you want to get involved with the community or be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, give B.L.A.C.K a chance,” Davis said.
To learn more about this organization’s mission to break the chains of oppression and uplift the black community, look for B.L.A.C.K.’s upcoming events around the Georgia State Atlanta campus.
Embracing the five o’clock shadow
Most conversations about body image are centered around women, but negative self-image is also a significant issue for young men, who wrestle with rigid masculine stereotypes. Beard Gang is a Georgia State organization with a mission to defy gender-based social conventions about body image by promoting male body empowerment and conscious living among Georgia State students.
Members of this organization reject stigmas of toxic masculinity and instead aim to encourage other young men in Atlanta to feel comfortable in their own skin. Senior Kenon McCollins worked closely with the group and proudly advocates for the grooming community he and the rest of Beard Gang built at Georgia State.
“We wanted to create an empowering community,” said McCollins. “We empower men through grooming and we want to make men feel good about themselves.”
A significant portion of men ages 18 to 24 struggle with positive body image. In fact, a study by the National Institutes of Health showed about 95% of college-age men feel unhappy with their bodies to some degree. Beard Gang is dedicated to uplifting young men on campus by creating a sense of community and pride in grooming.
A big part of this inclusive club’s outreach is their Instagram account. The feed features Beard of the Day posts where students around Atlanta show off their facial hair and share step-by-step grooming tips with other young men on campus.
“It was really nice to be part of an organization like that,” student Thomas Pruitt said about posing for a Beard of the Day picture. “Since the school is predominantly commuters, sometimes it’s hard to find the type of interconnection that other universities have, so it was good to be part of that.”
Sisterhood without joining a sorority
A number of outside stressors can significantly impact students, but many of these stressors are amplified for women earning a degree. Georgia State is home to the female-empowerment group EmpowHER, a safe and accepting organization for a diverse group of women studying at the university’s Atlanta campus. Through volunteer work and close-knit member meetings, EmpowHER established a strong sisterhood for women from a broad variety of backgrounds.
According to Forbes, Georgia State is one of the most diverse schools in the nation. Additionally, the university is almost 60% female. In a student body with individuals from countless cultures and classes, it can be easy for young women to feel lost in a sea of the 52,000 total students that spans Georgia State’s six campuses.
EmpowHER’s mission is to celebrate the unique qualities of all types of women and encourage them to find unity through sharing life experiences, networking for future careers and giving back to the local community.
“I feel like it’s a lot more diverse and intimate than other organizations on campus,” former EmpowHER Secretary Ajaysa Baker said. “Being at a college that’s already diverse, I think it’s important to be able to embrace all those different cultures and ethnicities. Anybody can get involved with this club. If you’re Asian, if you’re Muslim, if you’re Hindu, black, white — everybody should join.”
Baker, now entering her senior year at Georgia State, joined EmpowHER as a freshman. The club provided her with the tools to build professional and social confidence, as well as encouraged her and many other girls at Georgia State to develop a network of support through the trials of young womanhood.
“I feel like having an organization that allows different types of women to come together not only to have fun but also to build a sisterhood and to be able to talk and empower one another is a win-win for Georgia State.”
Staying positive with Positive Impact
Atlanta is considered the heart of the LGBTQ community living south of the Mason-Dixon line. Along with the city’s vibrant and diverse culture, a series of specialized care centers have found homes here.
Positive Impact is a non-profit health center for the HIV-positive community that offers specialty care and support services such as mental health counseling, medical care and substance abuse or addiction treatments.
With three locations in Decatur, Duluth and Marietta, this organization is one of the largest young adult resources for LGBTQ wellness, disease prevention and mental health awareness. Positive Impact provides free and reduced counseling for college-age people in Atlanta to help promote healthy lifestyles after testing positive for the HIV virus.
The organization also offers PrEP services, supplying people who might get HIV with a daily pill that prevents infection. A wide range of counselors and therapists are available to the HIV-positive community to discuss prevention, gender identity, health and stress.
Dating and hook-up apps, such as Tinder and Grindr, make casual sex easier than ever before, which increase the rates of contracting STIs and HIV. From 2015 to 2016, BackgroundCheck.org reported that Georgia rose from seventh to fourth place in a ranking of the “most sexually diseased states” in the country based on CDC findings, emphasizing the metro Atlanta area.
STI and HIV contraction are not the only health statistics growing in Georgia State’s backyard. The likelihood of depression is double for young people with HIV compared to those who do not have HIV. Although HIV-positive people can still live a long, healthy life after their diagnosis, managing the stress and anxiety of chronic illness can be tough. Georgia State students face a number of daily challenges between studying for exams, navigating relationships, day jobs and landing internships, let alone a positive HIV diagnosis.
Positive Impact specializes in helping Atlanta natives cope with both physical illness and mental health. The organization offers individual or group therapy sessions designed to uniquely suit the needs of young adults. Services are open to young adults for free or on a sliding payment scale based on each client’s needs.