Sounds of upbeat music just outside of the Madden Library made the campus come alive on Wednesday, September 8th. The noontime hour was bustling as social work students, donned in red t-shirts emblazoned with the shape of a heart, gathered around to pass out flyers, resources, shirts and free ice cream, pizza and Dutch Bros to their fellow bulldogs. Smiles, laughter and camaraderie filled the air.
An hour into the event all eyes were on the center of the walkway, as Fresno State mascot, Timeout, and social work assistant professor, Dr. Travis Cronin, began a dance battle. A few onlookers joined them, followed by even more. Pretty soon, the crowd of dancers nearly tripled and at the center of it all was President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, who also joined in on the dance, surprising onlookers with his swift moves.
The event, and surprise flash mob, was all part of Bulldogs Joyful Together – an event that brought together an estimated 700 students, staff and faculty to celebrate the return to campus, after nearly a year and half of working from home and distance learning. The event, coordinated by the Social Work Student Association (SWSA) and the Department of Social Work Education, was a partnership with the Office of the President and the Fresno State Alegría Mental Health Task Force. The goal was to spread joy, but also bring awareness to the importance of mental health.
“Almost every single student has faced some sort of mental health concern or has had a bad day,” said Nereida Zarate, a second-year Master of Social Work student and member of SWSA. “Because of the pandemic many of us have lost loved ones, employment, and our social life. The event made those students forget all their worries while enjoying the event.”
The SWSA say they had just a few short weeks to prepare for the event, but it was all worth it to see the happiness in their fellow bulldogs.
“Seeing the joy in everyone’s faces made the event a success,” said Zarate. “Even with the many hurdles we faced in making the event happen we had the perseverance to strive through and make it happen. The event was truly a work of art.”
The University’s Alegría Mental Health Task Force was launched in spring of 2021 by President Jiménez-Sandoval to improve the mental health and well-being of the Fresno State community through wellness events and activities.
Club members say Jiménez-Sandoval was excited when he heard about the concept of the event. Blending the Alegría Mental Health Task Force and the social work event was a natural fit, combining the task force’s concept of joy and its relationship to community and self.
Wayne Hurley, who has taught hip hop in the Department of Kinesiology for over 16 years, was the mastermind behind all the dance moves. He held private practice sessions with the students, volunteers and President Jiménez-Sandoval for weeks leading up to the event – and even got his 45 students involved.
“It is amazing how a spontaneous idea can turn into an event that brings joy and happiness. With a team effort, it was all possible,” said Zarate.
A week after the Bulldogs Joyful Together event, social work students from the African American Student Social Work Association (AASSWA), held their own mental wellness and unity event, this time a healing drum circle in partnership with local African drumming group, Libota Mbonda.
Tucked away in the middle of the Peace Garden on campus, underneath the shade of expansive pine trees, participants sat in a semi circle, a djembe – an African drum – placed in front of each of them. Each person tapped their drum to the beat with each tap signifying an act of self-care.
For AASWU treasurer, Jacob Geller, the event helps to bring to life one of his favorite quotes by Maya Angelou,“As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else.”
“This event was one that brought young and old and multi cultures together to become one,” said Geller, a communications senior. “It took the metaphorical blinders off from a long deep sleep and waking to a community that did not discriminate on who we all are. I heard ‘Wow, what a way to relieve some stress’ and ‘I love that you are doing this’. The sound of the drum circle was contagious and so positive for the campus community.”
This is the second time the AASWSA has brought Libota Mbonda to campus, with the first time in February 2020, right before the pandemic hit. Donté McDaniel, an alumnus of the social work program, founded Libota Mbonda and led the drum circle and dance.
“I’m proud of Donté for giving back to the campus community and sharing his passion with others,” said Ronnie Taylor, AASWSA club president and a Master of Social Work student. “I’m also proud of the participants for taking time to try it out, especially those who might’ve been nervous at first. We all carry stress from numerous areas of our lives. Collective therapeutic activities like this, which incorporate the body and cultural art are needed right now because many of us are searching for safe ways to relieve stress, creatively express ourselves, and reconnect with community. It’s the collective participation with others that provides the healing.”
Both on-campus events were made possible due to the support of the Office of the President.
Faculty and students from the Department of Social Work Education hope to plan more events for the campus community. Stay connected with the both student groups on Instagram at @swsa_fresnostate and @aasswacsuf to learn about future events.
[Photos courtesy of Cary Edmondson, Fresno State Brand Strategy and Marketing and Libota Mbonda]