UNTOLD Project-Campus Diaries: Behind Every Smile

MTSU Center for Health and Human Services Partners with the Global UNTOLD Movement to Create “Campus Diaries:  Behind Every Smile” – Maintaining Social Distance while Being Heard

The world is experiencing unprecedented challenges with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Middle Tennessee has not only been impacted by the pandemic, but the recent tornadoes as well. Our students are impacted by these world and local events as they continue to face the underlying stress of student life.  It is well-documented that mental health issues in the college student population nationwide are a growing concern and with the current threat of COVID-19, these issues are magnified.  MTSU Center for Health and Human Services (CHHS)  is partnering with UNTOLD Originals, a global storytelling platform as the national pilot site for Campus Diaries: Behind Every Smile to help fill a need to “share one’s story” and to be heard. 

The UNTOLD project is a global storytelling movement mining the unknown tales of humanity. Consisting of dynamic photojournalism, a film series for Chicken Soup for the Soul’s streaming platform Crackle Plus, a blog and podcast, UNTOLD exposes the remarkable stories of ordinary people – giving voice to life’s diverse experiences, challenges and vulnerabilities in a mission that unites us all.  Campus Diaries:  Behind Every Smile will be a special episode of UNTOLD’s film series is now in pre-production.

Beginning April 2020, MTSU students will be asked to submit “diary entries” anonymously through the Campus Diaries web portal which will be available via the UNTOLD Project website for students around the world to read and share. The goal is for students to feel less isolated as they participate in the catharsis of writing. The platform allows a safe space for students to unload life’s burdens without burdening  others.   These "Diary" entries will resonate with all students who have ever faced a challenge, crisis, or difficult patch on life’s journey through the college years. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the earlier tornados here in Tennessee, the diary entries are bound to be dynamic and inspiring as well.

In the fall of 2020, UNTOLD Originals will begin filming its series that will consist of students who decide they want to go on camera and will be featured in not only the film series, but be photographed by a world reknown photojournalist, culminating in a dynamic photography exhibit on the MTSU campus.  UNTOLD will also create a podcast for students to share their stories.  MTSU student involvement will serve as a model that will be expanded to colleges and universities nationwide.

In addition to participating in this pilot program, CHHS will write a grant proposal to provide technical expertise to colleges and universities who would like to implement this program along with other mental health-focused activities on their campuses.

MTSU’s CHHS associate director, Cynthia Chafin supervises a Health and Human Performance intern, Monica Hundley, who provides student input and perspective has played an integral role in pitching this special episode to the UNTOLD team and bringing the project to the MTSU campus. The Center currently implements a federal mental health focused grant on campus which has outperformed its first year goals and is currently in year two. “CHHS cares about our students and our campus community.   In addition to the mental health grant we implement with our campus partners, the Campus Diaries project is just another way we can support the mental health and well-being of our students particularly during this challenging time of “social distancing.”  While not all diary entries may focus on mental health issues, my guess with current world events and the “regular” challenges that come with being a student, a lot of the entries will indeed focus on mental health challenges. We want to hear from students about any of their life challenges whether it be physical health, finances, mental health, relationships, or anything else that is on their mind.” 

CHHS is reaching out to faculty via email, asking them to share this opportunity with students and to students through social media to make them aware of this opportunity.    Dr. David Butler, Vice Provost for Research & Dean, College of Graduate Studies says “This is a tremendous opportunity for us to support our students at MTSU and to give them an outlet to express themselves during an unprecedented challenging time in our nation’s history.”

Karen Shayne, UNTOLD Founder and Executive Producer, says “I am thrilled to choose Middle Tennessee State University and the Center for Health and Human Service to launch Campus Diaries as a pilot initiative that academic institutions across the country – and the world – can replicate.   With MTSU having students residing in all 95 Tennessee counties, the work we do will reflect a statewide effort to launch this amazing student-focused project.  We have an opportunity to showcase the wonderful students and work of MTSU to the world. Let’s be a part of the solution to reducing stigma and showing that’s it’s o.k. to talk about tough topics.”

 The Center for Health and Human Services, through collaborative affiliations and partnerships, facilitates projects, programs, and research activities in public health issues of importance to Tennessee and to that of the nation, consistent with the mission and purpose of MTSU.  Through collaboration with the Adams Chair of Excellence in Health Care Services, CHHS supports efforts to initiate and strengthen academic programs in health and human services to support workforce development and promote healthy communities.  

For more information on MTSU’s Center for Health and Human Services and the Campus Diaries: Behind Every Smile, contact Cynthia Chafin at 615-898-5493 or Cynthia.chafin@mtsu.edu. “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram (MTSU_chhs) and Twitter (@mtsuchhs). To learn more about the UNTOLD Project, go to www.untoldproject.org. UNTOLD Project is also on Facebook and Instagram.

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