Latinx feminist mental health activist Dior Vargas will bring a message of hope and encouragement to what she calls the ‘invisible’ populations during her first-ever trip to the Palouse region.

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, the New York City resident will conduct three workshops and deliver a keynote address on the Pullman campus. Her speech, free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m., in the Compton Union Building (CUB) Senior Ballroom. The event will be livestreamed and conclude with a book signing.

Earlier in the day, Vargas will facilitate a workshop for faculty and staff titled “Tactics for Self‑Care as Caregivers and Tools for Allies and Support of Underrepresented Students.” The workshop will take place 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. in Chinook Student Center 150. Another workshop designed specifically for students, “Creativity as an Outlet for Self‑Care,” will run twice, first from noon–1:30 p.m. and again from 3:30–5 p.m., both in Chinook 150.

“Her work and her message resonate deeply with both our work on inclusion and our focus on mental health—recognizing that inclusive communities are healthy communities,” said Ellen Taylor, associate vice president for student engagement in the Division of Student Affairs. “Her art, her message, and her challenge for us to think about everyone as we promote well‑being are really powerful.”

Be seen and acknowledged

Vargas is open about the fact that she lives with depression, anxiety, possesses traits of borderline personality disorder, and is a suicide attempt survivor.

“While it’s often scary for me to talk openly about my struggles, I think it’s important to be transparent and share my vulnerability,” Vargas said. “While I wouldn’t call it therapy, talking about it is sort of healing and gives me a sense a strength.”

She said it also allows her to connect with audiences in a more authentic way, letting them know that they are not the only ones who may be struggling with mental health issues.

It was the realization that in mainstream media mental health in communities of color is rarely acknowledged or discussed, that led Vargas to create the People of Color and Mental Illness Photo Project in 2014. She invited people to share photos of themselves and think about their mental health. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health, very few participated at first. Then she decided to post a photo of herself holding a sign that read, “My name is Dior Vargas and I have major depressive disorder.”  Submissions started to roll in and people continue to share their photos with her today.

“I like the idea of utilizing photography because a lot of people want to be seen and acknowledged,” Vargas said. “I want to help humanize their experiences, let them be in charge of their own narratives, and provide a platform to help them talk about what they’ve gone through.”

The Student Entertainment Board created a display of the photos and quotes from Vargas’ project in the CUB Gallery located next to the auditorium. Pictures can also be viewed at the entrances of the Student Recreation Center and Chinook. They are also featured in a book edited by Vargas, “The Color of My Mind,” which is currently on display and available for purchase at The Bookie in the CUB.

Life‑long endeavor

Vargas’ work has been featured in Forbes, Newsweek, NBC News Latino, and The Guardian. She is the recipient of numerous awards including The White House Champion of Change for Disability Advocacy Across Generations and the Bill Compton LGBTQI Leadership Award. She was listed as one of 15 “Remarkable Women of Color Who Rocked 2015” in ColorLines, a news source that focuses on communities of color.

In bringing her message to WSU, Vargas wants to put a different spin on mental health than what is often portrayed in the media, the notion that the struggles some people have can be resolved in capitalistic ways such as treating yourself to a massage or getting your nails done. She said self‑care isn’t something that can be checked‑off a list. It is a life‑long endeavor.

“I want people to know they are deserving of self‑care, love, and support,” she said. “If they feel they can benefit from help, they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out.”

Vargas’ visit is supported by the Division of Student Affairs, Graduate and Professional Student Association, Student Entertainment Board, Graduate School, the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life, Residence Life, Associated Students of Washington State University, and University Recreation.