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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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HawksMinded brings awareness to student-athletes’ mental health

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GRAPHIC COURTSEY OF HAWKSMINDED

When Dani Stuart and Zach Williams arrived on Hawk Hill in fall 2021, the junior defender on the women’s soccer team and junior distance runner on the men’s track and field team, respectively, had no intentions of joining HawksMinded, a club that brings mental health awareness to athletes on campus. Now, they are the ones running it.

Both Stuart and Williams found HawksMinded their first year after having their own struggles as student athletes and decided to join.

“Growing up in athletics, I’ve seen the toll that it can take on a person individually, and how it can impact every part of their life, even though it’s just a sport we play,” Stuart said.

After not hearing anything about the organization during her sophomore year, Stuart wanted to keep the organization going because she said she felt it was important to continue this change in mental health awareness at St. Joe’s.

“It’s something that our community of athletes needed,” Stuart said. “They needed to be able to have that connection with one another.”

Stuart reached out to Williams to enlist his help in continuing HawksMinded.

“I brought it to [Williams’] attention and I just felt like if it was going to be with anybody, [Williams] and I would be able to do a great job of bringing it together,” Stuart said.

The organization, originally started in 2020 by women’s track and field star Caroline Duffy ’20, was part of a series of initiatives led by Jill Bodensteiner, director of athletics, and Eric Laundo, senior associate athletics director for high performance, to address mental health issues for athletes.

It is branded as a “mental health peer support group,” according to the St. Joe’s Athletics website, a mission Stuart and Williams intend to continue.

“[Williams] and I’s vision of HawksMinded is to create a sense of community within the athletes on Hawk Hill and to let them know that no one is alone in their struggles,” Stuart said.

Even though everyone is not facing the same situation, HawksMinded is meant to show athletes other people are dealing with similar emotions, said Williams.

“It’s more for community outreach and realizing your place in terms of your own mental health by connecting with everyone else,” Williams said.

Sarah Cancila, a junior utility player on the St. Joe’s softball team, said for her, HawksMinded is a place student-athletes can feel comfortable going to acknowledge the pressure and stress they are under. But, Cancila said it is particularly important for her to help student-athletes find their identity outside of their sport.

“After these next two years, I’m no longer going to be an athlete,” Cancila said. “Figuring out who I am outside of athletics is something that I want to do, and I want to help others to do the same.”

With a year of leadership under their belts, Stuart and Williams are now focused on expanding the club’s reach.

“Last year was our take-off year since we took it over,” Stuart said. “We want to make it more well known within the community.”

Williams said HawksMinded is currently focused on putting on smaller activities, which typically draw a crowd of 15-20 people, to bring attention to the organization, including a yoga session for World Mental Health Day Oct. 10 with the goal “to help student-athletes balance their body and their mind together,” Williams said.

Another way HawksMinded plans on expanding is through collaboration with organizations such as Morgan’s Message, which already has a chapter at St. Joe’s, and The Hidden Opponent, which Williams and Cancila plan to bring to campus. These are two other organizations that focus on mental health in student-athletes.

“We want to combine them in a way so that they can all work together,” Cancila said.

But at the heart of all their future plans, the same mission remains: providing a safe space for student-athletes.

“We’re not necessarily an end all be all for mental wellness,” Williams said. “We’re that first step for trying to help people acknowledge it and take the step to get further help.”

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Mia Messina
Mia Messina, Sports Editor
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