Empty chairs represent message of hope
A sea of empty chairs filled the Academic Quad last week. Although the meaning behind them was grim, it held a powerful message and inspired students to share words of encouragement.
Active Minds, a club that focuses on mental health issues on campus, set up 1,100 empty chairs in the quad, each one representing college students in the U.S.A. that do not make it to graduation each year due to committing suicide. Students were invited to write messages or words in memory of their loved ones to tape to the chairs.
Psychology major Katherine Granke, a senior and the president of Active Minds, said it is a visual representation to show the impact of mental health can be on campuses.
“We always hope to spread that message and be able to start a conversation about advocacy, awareness, the realities of mental health, what kind of resources there are, and like, all these different things, like signs to look for in a friend, because we want to make sure we get those numbers down,” said Granke.
The goal of the project is to lower those numbers, and advisor Active Minds Denise Zack said that 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their death, so mental health professionals believe it is preventable.
“There is hope,” said Zack. “You can ask for help. You can reach out and there is someone there that is going to listen that will do everything they can to help you get to a place where you are not suffering, where you don’t feel like suicide is the only option.”
In the five hours the chairs stayed in the quad, they began to fill up with colorful pieces of paper with quotes such as, “Don’t give up” and, “We are here for you.” Natalie Hinton, a sophomore and sociology major, said she wrote, “Positive mind, positive spirit.”
“It’s something that I always tell myself, and I feel like if you have a positive mind, you’ll be able to be positive no matter what negativity comes up in your life,” said Hinton.
Hinton said even if students didn’t stop to write a message, the display still had an impact.
“I think it’s really helpful, especially for people who don’t write anything. Just walking past and reading the messages themselves, it’s really motivational,” said Hinton.
Michael Archer, a junior public health major, said he kept his message simple and wrote, “You are loved.” He said he thinks it is a good reminder for everyone and that spreading love makes the world a better place.
“People go through rough patches, rough days. Sometimes people feel like they’re not cared about,” said Archer. “I always care about everyone. I never exclude anyone. I like to think everybody deserves to be loved. I mean, we’re all humans, that’s all anybody wants.”
Senior Bryce Gentino, a physics and engineering major, said he wrote, “Confident and self-respect are essential to building your character,” because it is important for people to have qualities that they value about themselves. He also said the display was powerful.
“I think it makes people look out here and imagine that there were people sitting in every seat, and just if that person could’ve been one of our friends or someone meaningful, or the next president, and just think about those kind of things,” said Gentino.
Granke said events like the chair project, help start the conversation about mental health and spread awareness about available resources.