The Gray Matters says that you matter

Carly Davis

The Gray Matters hosted “You Matter” on Tuesday, Nov. 19 in the Gavle Rooms. The goal of the event was to promote awareness of mental health on campus and provide support for students.
The Gray Matters Collective is “a movement that is hopefully going to reach beyond Augustana and the Quad Cities community,” senior Haley DeGreve, one of the co-leads of The Gray Matters and its original founder, said. “It’s something that we want everyone to feel a part of because the reality is that mental health affects all of us, one way or another.”
The event invited several faculty members, students and Quad Cities community members to campus to share their personal stories and experiences with mental illness. At the event, various area groups such as the Quad Cities Behavioral Coalition and NAMI were present. Augustana counselors were there for anyone who may have been overwhelmed or triggered by the event.
Last spring, Gray Matters did a similar event. This fall, they focused on raising awareness around campus. Tuesday’s campaign involved The Gray Matters representatives from different campus groups along with independent allies as a way to emphasize peer support.
The visual show of support appeared in the form of a paper chain, constructed by Augustana students with color-coding to show how mental health has affected their lives. At several campus events and occasionally in the Brew, Gray Matters provided colored slips of paper: some for anxiety and depression, for self-harm and some for people who have not experienced those issues but want to show allyship and support.
The “chain of solidarity,” as it was described by co-lead Mackenzie Peterson, was an idea from their first meeting. 
“The whole point [of the chain] is for people to either anonymously or not put in slips of paper that have personally affected them or that are important to them,” Peterson said. “People can choose to write a message of hope on them or whatever they feel is necessary.”
Through the paper chain, guest speakers and a participatory show of support from campus representatives, the campaign aims to have students walking away feeling supported and appreciated. 
The personal stories shared by the speakers and the marketing of the event were designed  to create a more open narrative involving people struggling with mental health and those who can support them. 
“We’re hoping to put a face to mental health and soften people’s hearts to be more compassionate and empathetic,” Peterson said.
DeGreve, with the help of senior Kevin Donovan as a photographer, founded The Gray Matters in December 2018 after realizing how big of a problem mental health was at Augie. 
“This was a conversation that wasn’t being talked enough about on campus,” DeGreve said. “I wanted the administration to see that this was an issue and for them to understand that we do need more counselors, more conversation, more administrative faculty support around.”
The Gray Matters collective is not only focused on making a difference on campus, but in the larger community. “The Gray Matters is a collective that is fighting to end the stigma of mental health,” co-lead Sage Sanders said. “Not just on our campus, but in the Quad Cities.”
As an effort to expand the collective, The Gray Matters has built a large presence on social media this year on their official Facebook page as well as through their representatives’ personal social media accounts. 
“We feel like we can reach more people that way,” Peterson said. “Obviously word of mouth is important, too, but people are more in touch on social media than they are face-to-face.”
The group plans to grow beyond this area through connections with other groups like suicide prevention charity, Foster’s Voice. DeGreve has worked with that group before and will be traveling to Washington D.C. in the future.
The Gray Matters Collective can be found and supported on Facebook at @TheGrayMattersCollective
Kevin Donovan is art director for the Observer.