Warrior Run Scholarship Winner Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness through Photography

Academics, Arts & Humanities, Student Life, Art, School of Arts & Humanities, Department of Art and Design, Department of Art, Fine Art, Art Education & Art History

By: Megan Simmermeyer

File Under: photography, scholarship winner, senior thesis, thesis, warrior run

This past October, Mount St. Joseph University was represented by the student club Veterans in Communities (VIC) in the annual Warrior Run, a 5K run dedicated to promoting education that raises awareness and reduces stigma for mental illness and suicide prevention. Through VIC’s efforts, the Mount won the Warrior Run’s College Challenge, a competition among local colleges and universities, for a second year in a row.

As part of the victory, a Mount student was given the opportunity to receive a one-time $1500 scholarship. To win the scholarship, the applicant must have been diagnosed with a mental illness and developed tools/coping skills to live the most productive life possible, or the student must have demonstrated, through on- or off-campus involvement, a passion for mental health education and awareness. The winner of the 2016/2017 Warrior Run scholarship was Mount senior, Sidney Trasser.

A Thesis that Matters

Trasser has been working tirelessly over the past year to create an ideal senior thesis project while striving toward earning two BFAs—one in graphic design and a second with a concentration in photography. She has been developing her ideas for both her senior thesis projects for a long time, and she is especially excited about her photography project, which focuses on dissipating the misconceptions of mental illness.

Trasser’s senior photography thesis was also the focal point of her Warrior Run scholarship essay. “I am shooting people in bodies of water, often mixed with other things (paint, milk, flowers, twigs, or glitter),” Trasser says. “The concept I decided to use for this body of work, which is titled ‘Perfectly Imperfect: Misunderstandings of the Mind,’ is to break the stigma surrounding those who deal with these mental illnesses.”

Having experienced her own difficulties this past year, Trasser found herself undergoing symptoms of depression and anxiety. “Though I had friends and kind people around me, I still felt alone,” she says. This project has been one illustrating personal experience as well as an embodiment of the suffering others have felt. Many of the subjects of her photo shoots have dealt with similar struggles or are close to people who have suffered mental illnesses.

Through her thesis, Trasser has been able to share stories with others, and in turn, she has found her thesis was able to provide solace for herself and others, even if only in some small way. One of Trasser’s friends, a young man in the military, is featured in her work. “[Jake] came to me and really wanted to be in [my thesis], as he is dealing with both depression and anxiety,” Trasser says. “He was very open about [his struggle] and how being in my photos was therapeutic for him.”

Though she never saw her thesis as a therapy for the people in her photos, she is amazed by how far her project has come, but she wants to keep pushing the boundaries of her thesis message. Trasser says she feels it is important to realize that mental illness isn’t a “one size fits all” and especially that women aren’t the only sufferers. “We cannot stereotype these as illnesses of women,” she says, “and we cannot make men ashamed to deal with them.”

Stop and Think

While she hopes people find pure atheistic enjoyment in viewing her thesis, she also wants people to come away with a deeper message. “I hope they stop and think more,” she says. “I hope they are kinder [toward others], and I hope they take the time to understand the illness and the person before they decide that the person should just ‘move on, get over it, and stop being dramatic.’ Because that’s not what is happening with these people at all—it’s far more than that.”

Trasser hopes to continue to move people with her art and design work. After graduation, she plans to obtain a design job that can help expand her experience so she can achieve her ultimate dream of working for Penguin Book Publishing. “Some might say my dreams are too big,” she says, “but I am only going to live once, so I would like to follow all my crazy dreams to the end. I also plan to be an actress and a poet, so get ready world!”

To get a sneak preview of Trasser’s senior thesis, follow the link: “Perfectly Imperfect: Misunderstandings of the Mind”. You can view the full exhibition, as well as the other senior art thesis projects, April 21 – May 13 in the Studio San Giuseppe Art Gallery, located on Mount St. Joseph University’s campus. Visit the Gallery’s webpage for further details.

To read more about the Warrior Run and the College Challenge, read “Mount Wins Warrior Run College Challenge for the 2nd Year in a Row.” Be sure to also visit the Graphic Design and Photography webpages to learn about earning a degree like Sidney Trasser.