The 13th annual J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium at New Mexico State University will bring to light a topic often hidden in the Las Cruces community.
“Voices of the Invisible Majority: Social Justice and Mental Health” will begin on Tuesday, March 14 with a reception and awards presentation and will continue with a day of discussions, films and events on Wednesday, March 15 at the ASNMSU Center for the Arts, 1000 E. University.
“We chose this topic because we felt that this was an issue that would speak to our community, both on campus and in Las Cruces and the surrounding areas,” said Amy Lanasa, department head of NMSU’s Creative Media Institute and co-chair of the symposium.
This year the two-day event, hosted by NMSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, will showcase local experts tackling the tough subject of mental health and services in the region. The symposium named for J. Paul Taylor, a respected state representative and educator, started in 2005 when Taylor suggested strategies for bringing resources of the university to address problems faced by underserved populations in the southwest. Sandra Deshors, assistant professor of languages and linguistics, co-chaired the symposium with Lanasa.
“The panel presentations will include speakers talking about mental health and law enforcement, veterans’ issues and post traumatic stress disorder, mental health issues and treatment in our community,” said Lanasa. “As well as some guided meditation and a talk on the value of integrating mindfulness practice into our community.”
The opening reception begins at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14 with the welcome and introductions by Enrico Pontelli, interim dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, followed by the presentation of Social Justice Awards.
For the first time this year, there will be two awards, one for a faculty, staff or student of NMSU and a second for a Las Cruces community member dedicated to the cause of social justice. Carrie Hamblen, CEO and President of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce will present this year’s NMSU/Government Department Social Justice Award to Satya Rao, NMSU professor in public health services. Rao has actively sought to reduce stigma and secrecy related to suicide and mental health through her engagement with the local hospital and hospice, working with NMSU and high school students, staff and teachers, and co-facilitating support groups for families in southern New Mexico.
Anne Hubbell, NMSU professor for communication studies, will present the Las Cruces Community Social Justice Award to Lorenzo Alba, executive director of Casa de Peregrinos, the emergency food program, which has 13 outlets to feed people throughout Dona Ana County. The program has more than doubled since he took over in 2011, distributing more than 2.5 million pounds of food in 2016.
The final event of the evening on March 14, Tommy Thompson, a staff member of La Clinica de Familia-Behavioral Health Specialties in Las Cruces, will give a keynote speech about social justice and mental healthcare reform at 6:30 p.m. Thompson is board certified in neuropsychology and medical psychology with prescriptive authority. He spent the last 15 years focused on the integration of behavioral health and community clinics across New Mexico.
The symposium continues on March 15 with three panel discussions in the morning: at 8:30 a.m. mental health and law enforcement issues, at 9:30 a.m. veterans’ issues and post-traumatic stress disorder and at 11 a.m. mental health issues and treatment in the community. A special introduction of J. Paul Taylor will happen at 10:45 a.m.
Afternoon sessions will begin at 1: 30 p.m. with a presentation titled “In Our Own Voice” followed by a talk at 2 p.m. about integrating mindfulness practice in diverse communities. A performance from a NMSU’s theater department will follow at 3:45 p.m. titled “The Invisible Becomes Visible,” written by NMSU faculty. At 5 p.m., an episode of the documentary series “Labeled,” produced by faculty from NMSU’s Creative Media Institute, will be screened. The goal of the project is to share the films in Las Cruces schools and to help the public gain a better understanding of mental illness by hearing about it from people who live with it.
After the film, the symposium concludes with remarks by co-chairs Lanasa and Deshors and a reception.
The J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium is designed to grow upon existing university and community partnerships through reciprocal education, outreach and strategizing as part NMSU’s land-grant goals. Each year scholars, students, community participants and policy makers gather from across the state and region to explore, learn and work together on tactics for reform and justice.
Previous topics have included social justice for LGBTQ identities, justice for migrant youth and children, environmental justice and justice for children of detained and incarcerated parents.
The events are free and open to the public. For more information and schedules, visit the J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium website at http://artsci.nmsu.edu/en/