Belonging on Campus

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By Anna Lavorata

Editor Katie Williams

Her mental illness has hindered her for as long as she could remember.

Oakland University’s Human Health Building is a second home to psychology student, Isabella Lavorata. Every day she walks up the same flight of stairs, orders the same coffee at the nearest Starbucks, sits in the same comfy chair, and gets to work. 

The only thing that sets Bella apart from the other students is what’s going on in her mind. She struggles daily with anxiety and depression.

Bella doesn’t feel left out on campus, though. Since joining a research group last summer, she’s been able to find a community of students that understand what it feels like to not be okay every single day. 

Being a student at a smaller university like Oakland allows Isabella to feel more connected to her peers, as well as stay involved in activities and events when the only thing she may be thinking of that day is lying in bed.

AL: What is inclusion to you? What does it look like at OU?

Lavorata:  Inclusion, to me, is being accepted no matter what. Whether you’re the only woman in the room, or a different race or religion than most of your peers, you aren’t left out.

At OU, that looks like clubs, organizations, events, or Greek life. Here, people of all different walks of life can come together to share one common interest.

AL: How has inclusion on OU’s campus shaped your growth as an individual?

Lavorata:  The inclusion at Oakland has personally affected me as a college student that struggles with depression and anxiety. Through the Graham Health Center, OU’s on-campus clinic, and getting involved with my psychology major, I was able to fully understand my illness and find others who have similar experiences, which allowed me to find community and support within my peer group at Oakland.

Because of the existence of the Graham Health Center on Oakland’s campus, I was able to talk to a woman who gave me a referral list for psychologists. Going there to talk really allowed me to get the help I needed and therefore, I grew as an individual.

AL: Where do you feel comfortable and/or safe in expressing your identity on campus?

Lavorata: I feel safe in my research lab where I work with a few graduate and undergraduate students. While conducting research, we have also become close friends, often meeting outside of the classroom to get to know each other better.

I feel like I belong here and in places similar to the lab, where I can connect with others who want to pursue the psychology field and who also understand what it’s like to be a college student with so many life challenges, especially during the pandemic. I’ve really been able to find a community through those in my department who understand the tribulations of having a mental illness.

AL: Share a story that reveals a bias you have overcome.

Lavorata: Luckily, I haven’t had any bad experiences with things like that at Oakland. Because I’m involved in the psychology field, no one holds any of those biases against mental illnesses. It’s a very close group of us, especially in my research group, and because most of them want to be psychologists later in life, they’re very accepting.

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