After May 8, more than 60 students on the Knox campus will begin wearing white bandanas on their backpacks. These students have taken the pledge to raise mental health awareness through Alpha Phi Omega’s new Bandana Project.
As a part of their service program, APO will be distributing bandanas to volunteers who want to signal that they are open to speak with students who feel distressed. The new initiative is modeled after the original Bandana Project that started in the University of Wisconsin school system as an initiative to prevent students from committing suicide and was brought to Knox by freshman Melissa Wood after she heard about the program from her sister, who attends UW-La Crosse.
“I’ve lost three people from my hometown to suicide that I was in school with,” said Wood, explaining why the project was important to her. “I kind of wanted to bring it to Knox because my favorite part of the pledge is ‘You are way too important to feel alone today,’ and I truly believe that.”
The original Bandana Project began in 2014 at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls by a lecturer, Dr. Betsy Gerbec, whose son, Dan, committed suicide after a long struggle with anxiety and depression. The project takes a public health approach to the issue of suicide, and seeks to provide resources for those in need so they can help before it is too late.
To recruit people to participate, members of the service committee tabled in Seymour Hall from April 17 to May 1. By signing the pledge, volunteers agreed to receive a bandana in their K-Box to tie around their backpacks, as well as resource cards with hotlines to help anyone who may come and speak to them.
“You tie a bandana to your backpack to signal that you’ve taken this pledge and that you are a safe person to talk to,” said Wood. “It’s a silent support system, so the goal is that someone sees a bandana and it’s to show that they are not alone, that someone supports them.”
The project began at Knox as an event by students pledging to become members of APO, according to sophomore Shresha Karmacharya. The current Service Committee then decided to make it a recurring program that will take place every Winter Term.
“The current Service Committee saw a lot of potential in this project and thought that it was crucial to carry it on as a full-fledged service program,” Karmacharya said.
Karmacharya also mentioned that the program relies on donations and funding to pay for the bandanas and resource cards. The number of future potential participants will be determined by the amount of bandanas available, though they currently have more bandanas than volunteers.
“We were a little underwhelmed by the number of pledges [for the project] we received,” Karmacharya said. “We thought that this was something that was really going to take off considering how important the topic is.”
Despite the slow start, however, Karmacharya remains optimistic that the importance of the initiative will mean that it catches on in following years.
“Hopefully if all goes well,” she said, “you will be able to spot people with white bandanas tied to their backpacks around campus soon.”