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Welcome to the 2021 HESPC Conference
Dear Conference Attendee,
Welcome to the 2021 Annual Conference of the Higher Education Suicide Prevention Coalition! We really missed all of you last year. And what a year this past year has been! Everything from educating and supporting students through a global pandemic to reinvigorating necessary and important discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion across this country and beyond, college faculty, staff, and students have managed it all. With these issues in mind, this year’s conference will bring some new and promising directions. First, we are so excited for you to join us this year for our first ever virtual conference. Last year’s conference at Carnegie Mellon University was postponed by the start of the pandemic, and while we had hoped to be back in Pittsburgh for a live in-person event this year, we ultimately decided that moving to a virtual platform this year would give us the greatest likelihood of maintaining the event.
Virtual conferences are not without their pros and cons. On the pros side, we have the ability to engage attendees from all over, without concerns about travel time and expense. You can attend the conference from anywhere – whether that be your office, your home office, your living room, dining room, bedroom, back patio – well, you get it, just about anywhere. You also never have to wonder what is being served for lunch. On the cons side, there are always the potential for some technological issues. We encourage you to log on early and make sure that the platform is working for you. There will be technical assistance available, if needed. Also, one of the things that people will miss most about a virtual conference is the ability to connect with other attendees. We’ve addressed this by scheduling several breakout lunch possibilities, so that you can commune with colleagues and still have the opportunity to catch up. Finally, we have all learned the importance of self-care throughout this pandemic. We encourage you to join in on one of the wellness activities planned throughout the conference or just turn off your screen between sessions and give yourself a break.
Social justice discussions, particularly around diversity, equity, and inclusion have been hot topics, not only on college campuses but throughout the world. Our students have been at the forefront of these discussions, and it is our responsibility to be responsive, validate, and empower. This year’s conference is placing an emphasis on DEI issues, as they impact our college communities – and quite frankly, we should have been doing this all along. We have a plenary addressing suicide risk among Black youth and young adults, delivered by renown expert, Dr. Sean Joe from Washington University in St. Louis. We have a BIPOC series of presentations and panel discussion to address a range of issues affecting BIPOC students on our college campuses. And finally, we will have lunch breakouts to continue these discussions throughout the day.
As we have done in previous years, our student mental health ambassadors will have their own focused time during the conference where they will learn from and share with one another and leaders from The Jed Foundation and Active Minds about strategies to become effective leaders for suicide prevention and mental health promotion on their campuses. And with the virtual platform, we hope to engage more students than ever.
On the technical side, there will be a Q&A page, which will include a lot of support, as well as information about obtaining CE credits. And if you need technical assistance during the conference, there is a help button in the lower right-hand corner within the conference platform.
I would like to thank our conference planning committee for putting together another outstanding program this year. Special thanks goes out to Rose Milani, Julia Mead, and Hannah Metzger for their unending support to help plan and organize everything you will see.
Each year, the geographic footprint of the conference gets wider and wider, and this year’s virtual conference only extends those possibilities. While we originally began as an effort to bring together over 180 campuses in Pennsylvania, soon the energy from the HESPC extended beyond our boundaries. Once again, we have attendees from all over the United States. These are exciting times to be involved with the Higher Education Suicide Prevention Coalition. So consistent with this year’s theme, we encourage you to join us, take it off mute, and have an exciting and engaging conference experience.
Thank you once again for being a part of the conversation and for all that you do to support your students and one another on your respective campuses.
Matthew Wintersteen, PhD