The Women’s Center at the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC) has had the honor of hosting A Window Between Worlds healing arts workshops since 2013. As an artist and survivor of trauma, I knew firsthand the healing power of art; now, for almost 10 years, I have been sharing that knowledge and empowering our students to use art to heal not just from trauma, but also navigate through the daily stressors of college life.
Through our art program, we are giving students the tools they need for self-preservation so they can find success not just in college, but in life.
Bringing an AWBW program to the Women’s Center was a perfect fit. It was African American feminist writer, Audre Lorde, who said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Our students are often overwhelmed and juggling multiple responsibilities, never having enough time for themselves. Being a college student today is hard, and many of our students we support are not just college students. They are also care-givers, and parents, and self-supporting individuals with jobs and families. They are also dealing with different traumas and stressors like debt, illness, loneliness, family violence, and/or a global pandemic. For many of our students, college is also the first time they have felt safe to come to terms with their own identity. For most students, college comes first and everything else comes last – especially themselves. I often find myself telling students that self-care is just as important as showing up for class, studying hard, and acing their finals. And that’s where our AWBW program comes in.
From the first time our students come to campus during summer orientation, we engage them with healing arts. During orientation, we offer students the opportunity to create Stepping Stones. This art activity allows them to ground themselves as college students and see their journey as a series of steps leading them towards graduation. This activity guides them in keeping focused on their end goal, and if they should stumble along the way, their Stepping Stone is there to remind them to keep taking steps forward.
Throughout the academic year, students can engage with our AWBW program through multiple avenues. Whether they need support dealing with trauma, managing their anxiety, coping with stress, or just a timeout, our healing arts workshops are available to them all year round. During Welcome Week, we offer Journey Charms workshops using shrink art where students can visualize college as one of life’s journeys that may be full of good and bad surprises. We also offer Touchstones workshops where students create art that ties them to the larger UMKC community and reminds them that we are there for them, no matter what. Finally, at the end of each semester, we host Shrink Your Stress. This signature program takes place during our campus Stress Less Fest and gives our students a window of time during finals week to step away from their studies to do some self-care and stress relief by creating fun and meaningful shrink art.
Our most successful and fastest growing art workshops are our Healing Arts Corners. These self-managed healing arts stations are set up in various locations across campus to reach as many different populations as possible. In 2015 we started these workshops with just four locations and this past semester we were in twelve spaces on campus including the Women’s Center, International Student Affairs, the LGBTQIA Rainbow Lounge, the MindBody Connection (a collaborative space of our Counseling Center and Student Health and Wellness), the At Ease Zone in Student Veterans’ Services, the Student Advising Office, the Writing Studio, the Health Sciences Library, the Village in Multicultural Student Affairs, and our three residence halls. These stations provide students an outlet and resource for doing self-care on their time and on their terms. Students learn quickly where the stations are, and they return time and again when they need a little art to get them through the day.
Since 2013, our AWBW program has engaged students across campus, from classrooms in Arts and Sciences, to lounges in our medical school, to the sidelines of our basketball court. Our program has grown from serving 245 participants through 17 workshops during our first year, to serving 1800 participants at 67 workshops during the 2018-2019 academic year. With the COVID-19 pandemic came an even greater need for our workshops. We pivoted several times in order to continue offering art to students in the safest way possible.
The AWBW program at the Women’s Center is vital to the overall health of our campus. I am confident that through our art program, we are giving students the tools they need for self-preservation so they can find success not just in college, but in life.
Arzie Umali, MPA
University of Missouri-Kansas City
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A Window Between Worlds (AWBW) supports hundreds of direct service organizations across the country to incorporate creative expression into their work with trauma survivors. With this blog we uplift the voices of our art workshop facilitators and participants. We invite you to take in this perspective, notice what resonates and explore how it may fit into your life.