Students raise awareness for mental illness

by Jackson Ellison / Beacon Correspondent • March 1, 2017

Close friends Hicks and Penfield-Cyr are producing the project. Photo By Cassandra Martinez
Close friends Hicks and Penfield-Cyr are producing the project. Photo By Cassandra Martinez

College is filled with important papers and tests that can leave students feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. Project WOW, a fair aimed at promoting mental health awareness, is a safe place for people to let off steam through performance art.

Project WOW will be hosted in Walker 211 at 8:00 pm on April 9, and is open to all Emerson students.

The project was started by Suzie Hicks, a junior marketing communication major. Hicks lost a close friend to suicide in high school, and that introduced her to the importance of spreading mental health awareness.

“As someone who suffered from depression and anxiety since then it can be a really isolating experience; and I found a lot of solace in art,” she said.

The name comes from when Hicks was at her friend’s funeral. The father of Hicks’ friend said “Don’t ask why they aren’t here, just say WOW. I am so grateful to have had this person in my life.”

Ellie Penfield-Cyr is the associate producer of Project WOW. The junior political communication major got involved with Project Wow after meeting Hicks at a walk for mental health awareness and hearing her idea about the project.

“I was like, ‘This is amazing—and it’s important to so many people at Emerson,’” Penfield-Cyr said.

The way Project WOW chooses to focus on mental health is allowing people to express themselves through art as a healing mechanism. Hicks said she coped with depression through writing and singing.

She is trying to create an outlet for artists to gather together in a safe space and express themselves freely to fight against mental illness.

“We’re all artists here at Emerson, and a lot of us find solidarity in art but there really wasn’t an outlet to express that until I had this idea,” Hicks said.

Hicks said that she wants Project WOW to have different types of art displayed, like film, poetry, and dance. Active Minds, a mental health awareness group at Emerson College, is helping out by sponsoring the event.

All Emerson students are welcomed to come to the event. The fair isn’t just for people with serious mental health issues, but also for people that are having a hard time in college, Penfield-Cyr said.

This year’s event is only one night, but Hicks hopes to expand Project WOW into a weeklong festival next year. The week would feature guest panelists and a longer scaled version of the night that is planned. 

Looking ahead, Hicks wants to see Project WOW expanded to other colleges around the nation.

“College is such a transition, and such a time of loneliness. And so many things change when you’re in college,” Hicks said. “Having somewhere to express those feelings would be super important for every college student.”

There is no strict theme throughout the night that the art will focus on, but Hicks hopes to have pieces that focus on community and solidarity. She also wants to keep the festival light-hearted and not only display the suffering side of mental illness.

Hicks hasn’t fully assembled her team yet. Project WOW is still searching for help in a variety of areas, from talent coordination to photography.

The main goal for Hicks is to help her fellow students and she hopes this night will be able to provide those that are depressed or stressed out a sense of comfort.

“This is me trying to give back to the Emerson community because when I’ve had hard times, I’ve always been able to look to the people around me,” Hicks said.