After Senior Fellow Ashley Berry’s first year at the University of Texas School of Law, she noticed that many of her friends who started out eager to help people, had quickly lost their optimism. Many began suffering from anxiety and depression. As she moved through her legal education, she encountered many people who also mentioned their struggles with mental health. Although Ashley had worked with the student body government to bring a new mental care counselor to campus, she felt that there needed to be a broader, more open, and vulnerable discussion about how mental health affects both the general legal community, and the ability of lawyers to be effective advocates for others.
She decided to create an Action Project that addressed mental health and how we relate to others across differences. For her Project, Ashley organized a new lecture series at her law school that challenged students to think beyond case law and to examine how they relate to those around them and their community. The series also promoted awareness about the pressure to conform in the legal community, even at the expense of one’s own well-being.
Ashley organized a new lecture series at her law school that challenged students to think beyond case law and to examine how they relate to those around them and their community.
It took Ashley months to put together the lecture series. Beginning in August, she spoke to the student affairs office and both Dean of Students were thrilled about the project. With their support, she reached out to the professors she felt had the strongest connections with the student body, and spoke to them individually about the lecture series and the expectations for the project. From then on, she supported their lecture development until the launch of the series in February.
According to Ashley, the most challenging part was finding speakers who were willing to be vulnerable. Asking complete strangers to speak openly about a personal life experience or lesson was difficult, but after explaining her project, Ashley was able to find speakers who were excited to participate.
The lecture series was such a success at the law school that they now plan to offer one of the lectures to incoming students each year.
Ashley spread the news about the lecture series through the Student Affairs newsletter for three weeks, even offering about 200 boxes of pizza for each lecture to help draw people in. She initially wasn’t sure if this project would have any impact at all, but in the end, several students came up to her and personally thanked her for putting together the series. The lecture series was such a success at the law school that they now plan to offer one of the lectures to incoming students each year.