Skip to content

Black Student Coalition Focuses on Mental Health, Is Open to All Students

January 30, 2023
Members of the UC Merced Black Student Coalition, which started in 2022.
The Black Student Coalition at UC Merced focuses on its members' mental health.

When Stephen Smith got to UC Merced, he found several organizations aimed at helping Black students succeed. But he didn't find one specifically aimed at mental health. So, he started one.

Smith co-founded the Black Student Coalition last year. The organization's stated mission is "to provide a community away from home for the Black community here at the University of California, Merced, with an emphasis on mental health."

It wasn't an immediate success.

"Early on, it was definitely trial and error," Smith said. "We did have a slow start."

In the early days, prospective members might have been put off by the serious-sounding nature of the organization.

"But then we started going heavy with social media and events," Smith said. Now the Black Student Coalition has an executive board and 122 active members. And its events have drawn as many as 350 participants.

One key to success has been planning more casual social events, such as painting and ceramics sessions. A paint-your-tote-bag evening is planned for this week. Other events have included building vision boards and navigating the winter blues. The Coalition also has hosted a homecoming dance and a prom.

"There's a big emphasis on creativity," Smith said. "We noticed there aren't a lot of outlets for students to be creative on campus."

In addition to providing a social outlet, these events allow for a safe space for participants, and serve to build community among them. It all goes back to the Coalition's mission aimed at mental health.

"It's important to have fun things and an outlet to go to," Smith said.

One thing that surprises some folks is that the Black Student Coalition isn't limited to Black students.

"It's open to all people," Smith said. "We have 21 percent of our members who are non-Black. That's something we really want to emphasize … a lot of things that we do really transcend color and race."

Smith, who grew up in Los Angeles and plans to attend graduate school, said what drew him to UC Merced was the opportunity to have an entirely different type of experience.

"I've loved it," Smith said. "I don't think if I went to any other school I would have been able to do as many things as I'm able to do and have as many opportunities as I've had here."

He is getting ready to graduate next year but said he feels confident the Coalition is in a strong position to continue to grow.

Last semester the organization added a section called "The Tribe," which Smith described as a leadership bootcamp.

"We have four first-year students on the (executive) board," he said. Those four members completed The Tribe program. "It was really important to get fresh faces and new ideas on the board going into the new semester just so we can have that fresh perspective."

Smith said the experience has taught him organizational and other skills that will continue to serve him throughout his career. But he is somewhat surprised at the Coalition's growth.

"I was just hoping to create a safe space for myself," he said. "I would have never thought we'd have events with hundreds of people."

For more information, follow the Black Student Coalition's Instagram page.

Patty Guerra

Public Information Officer

Office: (209) 769-0948