College Toolbox pilots at IU

Students who want to work with Oscar-nominated actress Glenn Close to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness can sign up for Professor Bernice Pescosolido’s S101 Social Problems and Policies course next semester.

The course, titled “#StigmaSucks: The Interplay of Mental Illness, Media and Social Change,” is for students interested in the College Toolbox Project, an initiative aimed at removing the stigma of mental illness on college campuses, ?Pescosolido said.

The project is the campus pilot program of Close’s international anti-stigma nonprofit Bring Change 2 Mind, according to the program’s website.

Pescosolido said the goal of the College Toolbox Project is to create a toolbox of IU-tested events and activities that other schools can adopt to help reduce mental illness stigma on their own campuses.

The course will help students create campaigns they can then enter in an academic competition in April, Pescosolido said. Then, Close will judge the plans and decide which plans to actualize in the College Toolbox ?Project.

“We thought as an educational institution we have an ethical responsibility to help students understand the scientific foundations behind how to create the toolbox,” she said.

Pescosolido said students do not need to take the course to enter the competition but said the course will provide significant time and support for students to work on their plans.

“Monday will be focused on lecture and discussion, and Wednesday will be focused on working in teams on the practicum aspect,” she said.

Course lectures and discussions will cover stigma, mental illness, the history of mental health treatment and different perspectives on the field, Pescosolido said.

“The class is a sociology class, so we’ll be using a sociological perspective,” she said.

Guest speakers from various fields, including brain expert Olaf Sporns, will supplement lectures, Pescosolido said.

“We know now that progress in science depends on having tools in all the ?different disciplines,” she said.

Pescosolido said the course’s interdisciplinary nature is ideal for students with interests ranging from mental health to media and ?marketing.

“It costs a lot of money to do a national public service announcement, and they’re usually beautiful, but we don’t know if they work,” she said. “The unique thing about Glenn’s foundation is that everything will be backed by science.”

Pescosolido said the course is open to all students, but a significant portion of seats will be held for freshmen, who she said are the focus of most of the Toolbox Project’s background research.

“Still, older students have been so helpful in helping us design and launch this, so we don’t want to ignore their creative contributions,” she said.

One student leader already involved in the project is senior Lexy Parrill, who plans on becoming a teaching assistant for Pescosolido’s course in the spring.

Parrill said she went to Close’s talk about mental illness stigma at IU last fall and was interested enough in the topic that she contacted Pescosolido, who does stigma research, to find out how to become involved.

“I talked to Bernice and told her I was really interested in what she was doing,” Parrill said.

Parrill said she was asked last spring to be a student coordinator for the College Toolbox Project and will continue her efforts as a TA this spring.

“I’m going to be a TA for the class because right now I’m helping with how to get students involved and talking, and that’s what the course is all about,” she said.

Parrill said she is looking forward to seeing what the students in the class have in mind for the future of the project.

“I’m really excited to see what the students come up with and what their personal stories are,” she said.

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