University mental health care workers partnered with several on-campus support organizations to educate students about multiple aspects of healthy relationships with an activity fair Wednesday in the Arkansas Union.
The Counseling and Psychiatric Services’ Relationships Are Sweet activity fair featured representatives from CAPS, UA Health and Wellness Promotion, Razorback Recovery, the CAPS Ambassador Program, The UA Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education and Rape Education by Peers Encouraging Conscious Thought (RESPECT).
The fair focused on resources for maintaining happy and equitable relationships of all kinds. Each organization’s table was dedicated to education on a different facet of mental health or wellness and its connection to healthy relationship building. They featured offerings such as informational fliers and free condoms and crafts such as “valentines to yourself” and positive affirmation cards.
Patricia Morency, a licensed master social worker with CAPS, said the fair was designed to focus on celebrating relationships of all shapes and sizes and fostering self-love. It is difficult to build healthy, mutually-beneficial relationships with others until one has learned to love and take care of oneself, Morency said. Morency spent the fair working at the CAPS table, offering students pamphlets and fliers about healthy relationships and safe sex.
Morency said she often meets students who arrive at college with little prior education on how to navigate relationships and proceed to struggle with sexual health, sexuality, maintaining personal identity while in a partnership, communication and more.
Morency thinks events like today’s are important for students to learn the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships, discover self-care strategies and find resources for maintaining their mental health and overall wellness, she said.
“It’s important to be able to take care of yourself, to self soothe,” Morency said, “but then also being able to reach out to someone for support. Sometimes people feel like they’re scared and they don’t want to tell their partner if they’re going through something.”
Haley Martinez, a freshman, visited the fair because her sorority requires members to attend UA events. After visiting the various tables, Martinez didn’t think she had learned much that she didn’t already know about relationships and sex, although she did discover some Health and Wellness resources that she wasn’t previously aware of.
Still, Martinez thinks it sends an important message to put on a resource fair showcasing mental health and support resources so prominently, she said. She thinks events like Wednesday’s normalize these issues and make it easier for students to ask for help.
For Adrian Smith, director of leadership and diversity issues at the Multicultural Center, today was all about focusing on the most important relationships: individuals’ relationships with themselves.
Smith thought it was important for the Multicultural Center to be present at the fair despite its lack of explicit connection to relationship issues because the fair fits with the center’s theme of acceptance, he said. He thinks the first step in being able to form positive relationships with others is learning to love and accept everything about who you are.
“New love is about joy,” Smith said. “and as we think about it, happiness is often circumstantial, but joy is something more permanent, more internal. And ultimately, that’s what we’re getting to: love yourself to where you are at peace and have joy with self.”
Martinez enjoyed the fair’s overall message of self-love and self-acceptance, she said. She said she thought it was nice to have a reminder that success in relationships depends on first knowing and loving who you are.
Martinez took the time to write a positive affirmation to herself at the MC table, reminding herself of what she considers to be her best quality: her kindness toward others. While it is easy to give compliments and loving reassurance to friends, loved ones and significant others, it can be difficult to do the same to oneself, Martinez said.
“It’s hard to sit down and think about things that you like about yourself, because that can feel like a very selfish thing to do, or a very vain thing to do,” Martinez said. “But it’s very important for self-image, and when you feel good, you do good.”