I got the following email from the Athletic Director for Robert Morris University today:
I am writing in apology that the Robert Morris University Women’s Dance routine and costume was perceived negatively, as you have described in your letter. In no way did the students and/or the coaches plan to poke fun at, or discriminate against, any persons. At RMU, we hold all of our student-athletes to the core Champions of Character standards which include; Respect, Responsibility, Servant Leadership, Sportsmanship, and Integrity.
Our dance ladies are truly saddened that their dance has had this negative impact on your family. As mentioned, all of our athletes are involved in service and volunteer projects, and we would be more than happy to entertain any service ideas that you have pertaining to persons with mental illness. Oportunities such as these would serve as both a learning and service project, and truly teach life lessons.
We applaud you for being a strong advocate, and would be appreciative if you would accept our apology. Thank you.
~Megan M. Smith Eggert~
Director of Athletics
Robert Morris University
And I replied:
Dear Ms. Smith Eggert:
Thank you for your letter. I appreciate your taking the time to address my letter to Mr. Viollt, Ms. Heller and her staff. I have gotten some comments on my blog (www.chrisahickey.com) and one email from an RMU dance team student and, while I understand that they don’t fully understand my motivation, I appreciate…most of their comments.
I do want to reply to you what I replied to the one student who emailed me directly. My biggest concern about the costumes is that these young women are at exactly the age when most mental illnesses hit. Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia routinely begin showing between 15-24, and college students are particularly susceptible to depression. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for persons their age, and NIMH statistics show that between 10 and 20% of them will experience some type of mental health concern in their lifetime. Even more concerning is that more than 60% of them will never get treatment, and a major reason for that is the stigma they fear of persons with mental illness, because of how they are portrayed in the media and entertainment. Think of it this way – of the 30 or so girls on your three dance teams, between 3 and 6 of them either have or will develop depression, bipolar disorder, paralyzing anxiety, or schizophrenia. And, if they’d just done a dance routine dressed as crazed mental patients, would they get help? Would they tell their coach? Their friends? Probably not.
There is a vibrant community of adults with and parents of children with mental illnesses and we connect from all over the country via social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. The concern about the team’s costumes wasn’t mine alone. I was just the first one to blog about it. I’m not the only. I’ve talked to a few of them and, considering your offer about service, we feel the best use of the team’s time would be to work towards starting a chapter of Active Minds on the Robert Morris University campus. Active Minds is a non-profit organization dedicated to changing the conversation about mental health through student-led discussion and action. College campuses all over the US have Active Minds chapters – a very active and vibrant one is right down the road from you at the School at the Art Institute. It would be wonderful if there were an Active Minds chapter at RMU, started and sponsored by the dance team. You can contact Becky Gordon, the Midwest Coordinator for Active Minds for information on how to start a chapter at RMU. She can be reached at email@example.com, and I have copied her on this email.
My goal with the blog post and, when offered, the interview with John Keilman in the Tribune, was to start the conversation, and to raise awareness that persons with mental health conditions aren’t as they are portrayed. If we can save one life at RMU as a result of this, I hope you will share my feeling that it was well worth the publicity.
Thank you again for your letter. And if I can help in any way get an Active Minds chapter up and running at RMU, I am at your disposal.
Regards, Chrisa Hickey
I hope we can move forward and change the campus of RMU to the betterment of all the students.
They are welcome to volunteer their services at any therapeutic day school, like JCFS or and agency like Thresholds or Turning Point. I am sure all of these agencies would love to have them!
Nice to see people talking about it! Way to go Chrisa and RMU!
Way to go Chrisa indeed!
That was an awesome letter, and a great suggestion.
I think ironically, by acting out on a socially acceptable stigma, this team sounds like it is in quite the position to change minds on the subject.
I hope they follow through, it would be such a victory and a positive thing all around if they did. And I hope that the girls learn about mental illness genuinely, and actually WANT to help change minds.
In the wake of all these news stories about stigmatizing dance routines I am hoping that we can get the discussion going and keep it going long after this. Thank you for all you do in the fight against stigma!
Dear Ms. Hickey,
People like you are scary. The fact that you received such responses from the school, is scarier still.
John Olsen, Schaumburg
As a mentally ill person, I am offended you felt the need for an apology from this dance team. Dance is a form of expression. It is a way to release the pain and struggles we are facing. This team chose to express themselves in this format for a reason, yet you took no time to ponder why and you did what so many in our society do these days, you judged them. I am a person dealing with a mental disorder. I will have to take medication for the rest of my life, and when I do get off of my meds for any short period of time my loved ones notice right away before I even realize the changes. Yet through all this I have not lost my ability to allow others to express their pain or their sorrows nor have I ever forbid them by saying that it offends me. Maybe you should allow others to judge your opinions and see how many are offended then, I guarantee you will not like the results. Now let's see if you can live up to your word and leave this comment up for others to read.
Ozzy – not sure what you mean be " true to my word," because, as I've said here on other posts before, this blog is not a newspaper or a democracy. I don't have to be nor do I profess to be "fair and balanced" when it comes to posting comments. I post comments with differing views often, but I don't post outright nasty comments or personal attacks, usually.
Izzy, the entire premise for your comment is invalid. I never asked for, not did I expect an apology from RMU. If you read my initial letter and my reply to Ms Smith, you'd see that. My concern is that they didn't think at all about it. No one does. You, Ozzy, are a member of the last minority it's ok to poke fun at and discriminate against. If you're ok with that, that's your perogative. Many, many of us aren't, and we refuse to sit in the back of the bus any longer, so to speak.
I think it's wonderful and quite amazing at how diligently you advocate. The outcome in this case of receiving an apology I'm sure was not your mission, but it is nice that by taking the time to inform Richard Morris University that you got it, another opportunity to educate about mental illness and stigma.
The biggest bonus is the chance to make some good of it all by encouraging the University to have an Active Minds chapter. Your dedication to raising awareness and educate is admirable. You are making a difference, one voice, one message at a time.
Just a note for all of you that are posting personal attacks on me and wondering why they aren't up here – my blogging service lets me screen comments and i post what I want. This isn't a newspaper.
Oh – and it tells me the IP address of the commenter.
So while the Athletic Director says the dance team are "saddened," the comments coming from RMU's campus internet service say otherwise.
Chrisa, remember that generally people do not react with hurtful personal attacks unless they themselves feel threatened or compromised. Your blog has always maintained an atmosphere of respect and professionalism and has never stooped to hitting below the belt. I suspect that the reason some have chosen to 'fight dirty' is that your honesty and insight has exposed a vulnerability that causes great discomfort. Sometimes the truth can have that effect.
I am so glad you are a strong voice on the front lines for us. You a greatly apprecated by those of us who need and look up to you.
I thank you personally on behalf of myself and my daughter.