Emma Kelsey – Staff Writer
This year’s Nobel Conference met head-on the issues of mental health inequity and young people. There were multiple distinguished speakers, Q&A panels, and lectures filled with relevant and crucial content about mental health.
Alongside these fundamental events of the conference, there was a different kind of intellectual opportunity for students–the Nobel Concert, composed of songs, dances, and poems which expressed, and communicated, the topics relating to this year’s conference in unique ways.
The Resonance concert featured dance, song, and poetry pieces, chosen and performed by Gustavus students and student groups like the Gustavus Women’s A Cappella group, G-Sharp, and LeGACy.
“In this conference about young people… I wanted their voices to be in it,” Michele Rusinko said. Rusinko, who organized the concert, explained how she hoped to bring, alongside the other aspects of the conference, another plane of understanding that would allow students to communicate their own take and experience with the topics of mental health and mental health inequity. Through these different mediums of art, these students were able to add another dimension to the conversations of this year’s conference.
“When people can perform… the audience is able to embody that feeling of what the performer is trying to express – because embodying and feeling that experience is so much different than just talking about it, thinking about it – it adds another way of knowing,” Rusinko said. She explains this experience as an “intellectual embodied investigation,” that goes beyond the cognitive activity involved in other parts of the Nobel Conference.
This event strived to provide a supplementary source from which people can gather understanding on experiences relating to mental health in young people. Senior Cascade Oppitz, a dancer in the piece My Brain and My Heart Divorced, explains the nature of this specific performance, one of many in the concert. The dance was performed alongside a spoken poem, where different parts of the body affected by mental illness were personified. Each dancer performed the part of a different organ, and the final dancer recites the poem and represents the body as a whole.
“This dance does a perfect job of encapsulating and displaying the different functions, both perceived and real, that body parts fulfill in the body regarding mental health and how you can change your focus and mindset within your body to alleviate symptoms of mental illness.” Oppitz said. This parallels with Rusinko’s goal of this concert, which was to communicate all the different levels of feelings experienced by young people as it relates to mental health.
“I hope people will leave this performance remembering to breathe and seeing that there is a sense of beauty and connectedness in the wonderful complexity that is the human body,” Oppitz said. They said that this performance is especially meaningful to them because they themselves struggle with mental health and have a passion for advocating for other people and their mental health needs.
Senior Zoe Zarth, co-president of GWAC and LeGACy, says that the pieces they will be performing were nominated and voted on by the members of each group, with intentionality of the messages in them as it relates to the topic of the conference.
“Having a conference centered around young people and being offered the chance for us young people to share this message has been such an honor. All of our members are very excited to perform alongside such talented poets, dancers, and speakers at this concert and we are just so grateful to be a part of this important message,” Zarth said.
Rusinko recognizes the students involved in these performances and all that they give to make them happen. She has noticed this year specifically that students are having a hard time, and praises them for coming together to share these struggles with a greater audience.
“I’m particularly grateful for all the students who have dedicated time to doing this, and I want to commend their courage, to be that transparent and that vulnerable in front of an audience…it’s just phenomenally brave.”