Sitting around a table in the Texas Union, the creators of UT’s new self-esteem boosting club try to describe their project in one word. One describes it as “groundbreaking,” another says “community,” but the group comes to a consensus on the word “human.”
Undeclared sophomore Micaela Williams, radio-television-film sophomore Elaina Woods, finance sophomore Caio Porciuncula, undeclared sophomore Antonino Cummings and several other students came together to create Esteem, Growth, Optimism, or E.G.O., a club focused on promoting high self-esteem and personal growth.
The club meets Thursday nights in Waggener Hall to hold an open forum where members can discuss aspects of everyday life, including mental health, body issues, gender identity, racial identity, sexuality and religion. Williams explained that by creating a safe space to hang out and talk about these issues, they hope to instill in their members a greater sense of self-esteem and self-worth.
“The point is to allow everybody to reach their full potential, which sounds kind of corny, but we are here to provide a place of support and acceptance, so people can grow and love themselves,” Williams said.
According to a 2013 survey by the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from a mental illness, excluding developmental and substance abuse disorders. One in five children either currently suffer or have suffered from a mentally debilitating disorder. According to Cummings, this club is the creators’ response to the mental health crisis.
“I think we’re starting to realize we can’t just ignore it anymore, and it’s going to take a focused effort,” Cummings said. “In a way, I think this group is a response to that, to our culture. It’s us saying ‘Hey, let’s do something about this.’”
The club began with a Facebook post on the UT transfers page, which all of the founding members liked and commented on. As they began talking, plans for E.G.O. began to form.
Woods explained that this club is the first of its kind at UT because of its focus on a broad range of topics. She said the creators’ goal is to bring different perspectives and life experiences into each meeting. By doing this, they hope to fight some of the stigmas associated with mental health issues.
“Feeling alone, feeling sad, feeling conflicted is a very human thing and a very natural thing. We all feel like that from time to time,” Porciuncula said. “We want to humanize these issues and make sure that people know that they can feel that way, and there are people they can talk to — you know, there is a solution to the problem. We want to be that solution.”
In the future, they plan to have guest speakers at their meetings and host events, such as the Mad Hatter Tea Party and what they call a Be-You-Ty Ball, where they will encourage attendees to come dressed in clothes that are most comfortable for them, whether they are pajamas or formal wear.
For now, the creators are focusing on promoting their club, building membership and reaching out to youth clubs and schools where, according to Williams, they hope to promote high self-esteem in young children.