By Jacob Rzempoluch, Sports Editor
From Jan. 20-21, the Fred Rogers Institute proudly hosted all 11 member schools of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference for its first-ever Mental Health Summit. The event, which included at least two student-athletes from each institution along with several coaches, trainers, and administrators was the result of years of increased understanding of mental health. Student-athletes are particularly at risk for a variety of mental health concerns, ranging from disordered eating to suicide. Over the past decade, colleges have increased mental health awareness messaging. However, more specific conversations are often needed to address groups such as student-athletes.
Dr. Dana Winters, Executive Director of the Fred Rogers Institute, helped organize the event in order to allow student-athletes to lead discussions. “Last year Fr. Paul [Taylor, PAC Presidents’ Council Chair and SVC President,] and I attended a summit around young peoples’ mental health… and it was a bunch of people who had researched the topic talking about the needs of young people, but there wasn’t a single young person there,” Dr. Winters said. When the conference began to discuss planning an event focused on mental health with the Fred Rogers Institute, Dr. Winters and Fr. Paul suggested giving time to student-athletes to speak to all attendees.
The summit opened with greetings from Dr. Winters, Joe Odernko, PAC Commissioner, and Fr. Paul. Dr. Becky Zill, Fred Rogers Institute Citrone Family Fellow for Mental and Wellness, played an important role in planning the summit alongside the previously listed individuals. Next came the student-athlete panel, which was noted by all attendees as a significant part of the summit.
Day one concluded with breakout groups that focused on discussing the topics brought up by student-athletes in the morning session. The groups consisted of individuals who held similar roles at different institutions. Similar breakout groups continued on day two, with the groups now being divided based on school to allow the various members of the institution to discuss concerns more specific to their campus.
Head wrestling coach Dominick Nania was one of several Saint Vincent coaches to attend. One of the youngest and newest coaches at Saint Vincent, Nania strongly believes that having more conversations about mental health can help student-athletes as well as the athlete-coach relationship.
“The big thing I took from that is not just saying you have an open door policy, but making it really feel comfortable without it being forced,” Nania said. He also noted that the concerns of student-athletes were centered in each session, ensuring that all attendees were listening specifically to current student-athletes expressing how they and their teammates felt.
Cameron Hyde, senior accounting major, was surprised by how willing all of the student-athletes were to share their thoughts.
“Saint Vincent seems to be one of the top leaders in the PAC in mental health awareness,” Hyde said, who also attributed this to strong mental health awareness campaigns on campus.
Currently, a similar conference-wide summit has not been scheduled for next year. However, everyone interviewed for this article expressed interest in continuing the discussions that started at the summit.