The Counseling and Mental Health Center offers a number of services for the more than 50,000 students at UT. For those feeling lost or struggling with self-identity, the Voices Diversity Discussion Groups allow them to connect with others with similar identities in a way that is different than traditional therapy.
Black Voices, Queer Voices and Asian American Voices are three of the six discussions focusing on identity and intended to support students and give them a safe space to talk. Kimberly Burdine, CMHC psychologist and diversity coordinator, facilitates Black Voices.
“It’s a place where they can come together with folks who share a similar identity and be able to talk about that,” Burdine said. “Some of my hopes for Black Voices is that people feel more (firm) in our identity because for me I think some of the way you undo the stress and trauma is to create affirmation.”
Voices is partnered with the Multicultural Engagement Center and Gender and Sexuality Center. The program started two and a half years ago, and Burdine said it has attracted more students since then. Each group facilitator shares the identity of that group.
The discussions are not held in CMHC but on another floor of the Student Services Building. Burdine said this eliminates the stigma surrounding therapy. Voices is unique because it provides an environment focused on discussion, Burdine said.
“We want to promote them in a way that is affirming and that won’t cause more trauma or more stress,” Burdine said. “It’s a support group where you get a feel for what therapy might be like, because there are therapists in the room, but it’s not necessarily therapy.”
Nursing senior Richa Patel goes to one-on-one care counseling at the CHMC and said she has heard how Voices gives students a sense of belonging.
“I think a lot of us keep things inside all the time, so going to a place where other people share what they are going through helps reassure students,” Patel said. “It’s important to always feel included and to know there are other people who are going through the same thing as you.”
Patel said she is thankful CMHC cares about students and their unique experiences enough to have the Voices program.
“There are things that some people will go through that not everyone has, but when you find people with similar experience, things aren’t as scary,” Patel said.
Chemistry junior Aizelle Gaddi said the Asian American Voices group interests her as she thinks it’s important for students to have an outlet.
“I think it’s very important, especially because UT is a really big school and having those discussion groups make the school smaller and give students a voice and a home,” Gaddi said.
Burdine said the groups not only help her students but also herself.
“There’s nothing better for me to see than someone to come into their own space and thrive,” Burdine said. “Especially as a first generation college student and a student of color, it means something to me because I see myself in these students.”