Carla Eugene, a senior staff therapist, facilitates a therapy group for undergraduate black women called Colorful Women. Credit: Akayla Gardner | Lantern Reporter

When Gabrielle Hicks transferred to Ohio State in 2017, she knew she made the right choice, but she felt isolated without a community she could identify with during difficult life circumstances.

She was studying to become a school psychologist but couldn’t bring herself to seek counseling.

“It was just weird for me to do it for myself; I totally advocated for other people to do it, but doing it for myself was hard and also thinking in my mind that I wasn’t thick enough,” Hicks, a doctorate student in educational studies, said.

She said she called Counseling and Consultation Service and was recommended to Colorful Women — a therapy group for black women that has both undergraduate and graduate groups. It took her awhile before she responded to the invitation to join the group.

“I wasn’t able to utilize counseling techniques on myself; it wasn’t working,” Hicks said. “I realized in that moment that I did hold my own stigma because it took me so long to reach out.”

Hicks joined the Colorful Women therapy group for graduate students in January 2018 and finally found a community of support.

“We all talked about wanting to build community,” Hicks said. “Some of us are the only black woman or black student in our program.”

Hicks said the group reads through each other’s dissertations and sends messages of encouragement on GroupMe throughout the week. One group member connected Hicks to the Black Graduate and Professional Caucus — a student organization that promotes academic, cultural, service and social programs for the university — where she formed many other friendships.

Hicks said she had social anxiety, but when her friend from her Colorful Women group saw her at a caucus meeting, she took her hand and introduced her to people.

“I needed someone else to be able to speak to those things,” Hicks said. “The group has been that for me, like a mirror but also a positive response to a lot of the negativity I was exhibiting by myself.”

These are people she said she’ll remain friends with long after she graduates.

Carla Eugene, clinical therapist and undergraduate facilitator for Colorful Women, said the group provides a space for black women to be themselves.

Eugene said there is no other place where her students could go to talk about and heal from their mental health disorders.

“The black community is very strong on togetherness and being able to identify with each other and being a collective group, so knowing that they don’t have to be individualistic,” Eugene said. “They can be in a collective space and share experiences and grow from them.”

Potential group members go through a screening process where they meet with group facilitators to see if they are a good fit based on their personalities and a brief mental health assessment.

“[Black women] are women who come from a background of being superwoman. We have to work twice as hard. Women have the expectation of showing up at all times,” Eugene said.

The group talks about childhood experiences, drug and alcohol use, medication, sexual assault, dating and stigma in the black community about seeking therapy, Eugene said, and that the best groups are the ones where the learning experience comes from one another.

Eugene said her parents were always open with her and she never felt like she couldn’t talk about her mental health, but she knows other people don’t have that support so she strives to create that space.

“There’s something about when black women get there, something about when women get together period,” Eugene said. “That the fire that goes through us.”