William Bassham knows all too well the kind of stress that can overwhelm a student. As a graduate student and an undergrad himself, Bassham remembers how tension at home can sometimes impede academic performance.
"The more turmoil I had, it just made things harder," said Bassham, an adjunct professor of biology at HCC.
He also sees it now, in his students, particularly those returning to school, students with jobs and families and other commitments competing for their attention. "Everyone's dealing with an extremely different set of problems," said Bassham.
This semester, Bassham and adjunct professor of humanities Jerry Levinsky decided to start a men's support group to give students a forum to discuss those problems - or anything else that is on their minds.
"Having a safe place to talk about what's going on in your life helps people manage all the balls they're juggling," Bassham said.
The group meets every Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in Room 220 of the Campus Center. Its launch is part of a concerted effort by the college to reach out to students through more informal pathways. In addition to the men's support group, a chapter of the national mental health advocacy group, Active Minds, has been also been organized this semester at HCC. Both groups are affiliated with HCC Counseling Services.
"They've been hugely important in helping us get started," said Bassham.
Why a group only for men? Bassham and Levinsky are both trained facilitators who used to lead groups at the Men's Resource Center in Amherst. Bassham said gender specific groups, whether for men or women, tend to foster a more open and frank discussions, without the inter-gender tension that might otherwise intrude.
"It's all about providing a safe environment to talk about very personal things," he said.
Plus, HCC already offers several support groups and programs specifically for women. "There wasn't one for men," he said, with the exception of ALANA Men in Motion, an academic support program for young men of color.
So far, the groups have been small, with just a handful of people showing up each week. Bassham attributes that to a "cultural learning curve" as students get used to the idea of letting go and talking with a group.
But, he said, from the beginning, participants haven't shown much hesitation to open up. So far, the most popular topics have centered around home life and relationships.
"That's been the main topic for me," said Tristan Cullen.
Cullen said he first came to the meeting out of curiousity and because he knew Prof. Bassham, but now he is a regular.
"It's been really good," he said. "Really useful."
While Bassham and Levinsky are there to facilitate, they don't come in each week with a specific subject in mind or question to get things rolling.
Photos: (Left) Group facilitator William Bassham, right, talks to a student at the Men's Support Group.(Right) Adjunct professor of biology William Bassham is a co-facilitator for the Men's Support Group.