MOSAIC Clubs Create a Safe Space for Discussion on Disability and Mental Health

Letiah Fraser speaking to students over Zoom. Photo courtesy of Mia De Nava.

As she situated herself on the screen, Reverend Letiah Fraser’s t-shirt, which read “Jesus + Therapy” was clearly projected on the Fermanian Conference Center screen. 

On Nov. 9, Point Loma Nazarene University clubs Delta Alpha Pi and BREAK held a collaborative event called Men and Mental Health and Women and Disability. Delta Alpha Pi is a club that spreads awareness on disability, chronic illness and mental health, and BREAK focuses on gender justice. The event was held in the Fermanian Conference Center and was attended by approximately 50 people. 

Morgan Rego, fourth-year philosophy and Christian studies double major is the president of BREAK. Rego, who uses she/her pronouns, said that both topics being covered were important to talk about in the context of Christianity. 

“I think especially because we are on a Christian campus, there is a lot of narratives with what it means to fit into a male Christian body and what it means to be in a woman Christian body and it’s very black and white,” said Rego. 

Gianna Piva, fourth-year environmental studies major, is the president of Delta Alpha Pi. Piva, who uses she/her pronouns, said that oftentimes the voices of disabled folks are not heard and this event was meant to open the conversation up.

“Oftentimes the church doesn’t include those with disabilities or with mental health conditions because they’re afraid of them or don’t know how to interact with them or how to approach them,” Piva said. “So I feel like the more we continue to have conversations like this, the less afraid of the idea people will be and the more we can make it more of a normal thing and change the narrative of Christianity and disability.” 

The event began with a Zoom interview with Reverend Letiah Fraser (PhD), ordained elder in the church of the Nazarene, disability rights advocate and activist. She said there is a sizable number of disabled folks who have chosen to leave the Christian church. 

“A large portion of the disability community that would either have been Christian or grew up Christian, or whatever have chosen not to be,” Fraser said. “For two reasons, the issue around healing or being fixed, but also because the church, [the] large church, not any specific denomination, lobbied against having to implement the Americans with Disability Act.”

According to section 307 in the American Disabilities Act, “provisions of this title shall not apply to…religious organizations or entities controlled by religious organizations, including places of worship.” 

Fraser said that when working to include the disability community within the church, their culture should be at the forefront. Church community members should both work to learn disability culture like they would any new culture and also be careful not to erase disability culture by approaching disability with the intent of healing. 

Fraser also said that language in the church can be hurtful to the disabled community. For example, in common worship songs, the language of being “blind” is often equated with negative attributes or with sin. 

Izzy Murphy, fourth-year theology and philosophy double major, said the meeting helped her understand ableist practices in the church that she had not noticed before. For example, how churches invite folks to stand to worship.

Ableism, as defined by Miriam-Webster, is discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities.

“We say let’s stand for the sake of showing reverence to God, so instead of narrowing it to standing, going back to the broader meaning of showing reverence in posture right now with us,” Murphy said.

After the Zoom ended, Emilio Prieto, Resident Director in Wiley Hall, counselor at PLNU’s Counseling Center and medical social worker at Sharp Memorial Hospital, joined Rego and Piva in a conversation about men and mental health. 

Prieto said the main barriers he has noticed in young men he works with are access to mental health help, insurance and pride.

Prieto said there are a few common excuses. One of them had the crowd laughing with him. 

“One that I go to all the time is, ‘I made it this far,’” Prieto said. 

Everyone laughed. 

“I made it this far, so I’m probably fine. No I’m not.”

Prieto said pride can often come from machismo, a term from his Latin culture. 

“Part of masculinity, I’ll use my Latin terms – machismo – is like this belief that I have everything within me to conquer this or there is nothing outside of me that can help me get past this,” Prieto said. “I am the only solution.” 

This is not helpful when seeking mental health help; in fact, the gospel illustrates the opposite narrative, said Prieto, it is about seeking community. 

Prieto said that the church does not have to work in opposition to mental health help. 

“Sometimes a Lexapro prescription is what we need on top of prayer and that’s okay,” Prieto said. “Sometimes you need a therapist and a pastor.”

Nicholas Ma, fourth-year social work major, said this event is an example of the power of clubs on campus. 

“This is the type of event I wish that ResLife did more of,” said Ma. “I wish that all groups on campus did more with prominent voices in a step above where we are in life. These are former students, but only by like two years, so they understand where we’re at and are not separated from our lives.”

Students can find mental health resources through PLNU’s wellness center website

Students can find disability resources through PLNU’s Educational Access Center. 

Written By: Sarah Gleason