Collegiate Prevention Partnership launches stigma free website project

Photo of laptop screen showing online meeting
The Collegiate Strategic Prevention Framework Partnership for Success (C-SPF-PFS) initiative housed under the Center of Excellence for Recovery in the Marshall University Research Corporation is launching a new project to help break down barriers for prevention, intervention and/or recovery by addressing stigma.

Student leaders in the program at different campuses around the state have been trained on the importance of using destigmatized, person-centered language to be more inclusive, promote health equity, and help break down barriers to service. As part of the project, the student leaders have started the Stigma Free Website Designation Project. The goal of the project is to eliminate barriers, advocate for campus changes and increase awareness among higher education students through unified, destigmatizing language.

Student leaders work with their respective campuses and organizations to review websites and social media accounts for stigmatizing language and then come up with recommendations for change. Groups who participate are given a Stigma Free digital badge to display on their websites and social media platforms.

Alyssa Milbee is the student leader on the project at Marshall University.

“I believe that acknowledging the power that our words carry is the first step in addressing how stigmatizing language can perpetuate negative stereotypes and stigmas,” Milbee said. “It is important to understand why certain language is stigmatizing, but it is also important to be able to efficiently address the use of stigmatizing language when it is observed. The Stigma Free Website Designation Project is an excellent way for individuals, groups, and organizations to showcase both cooperation in negating the use of stigmatizing language and commitment to constructing safer online resource centers for those seeking information.”

Carley Knuckles is the student leader at WVU Institute of Technology and says when the stigma around mental health and substance use disorders is decreased, people become more open to receiving help.

“This allows for not only effective prevention efforts but increases the amount of individuals who seek professional help with their mental health and substance use disorder,” Knuckles said.

The student leaders for in the project are reviewing the websites and providing recommendations. They are required to go through ten hours of training on person-centered language and addressing stigma. The Stigma Free Website Designation Project is allowing the student leaders to apply that training in the real world to help promote health equity and inclusion.

Devin Towne is the student leader at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

“Whether spoken or written, our choices of words matter,” Towne said. “We do not know the lived experiences of every person that listens to our words. We must make a concerted effort to adjust our language to ensure that our chosen words do not have the potential of provoking a stigmatizing situation for others. Accountability is everything.”

To request a website review, please fill out the form at the following link: https://forms.gle/paaUmdqaQvo48pgY8.  Any organization or agency may request a review. It is not limited to prevention organizations, higher education, and mental health agencies. Questions or clarifications may be sent to the C-SPF-PFS Project Director, Heather McDonnell-Stalnaker by e-mail at mcdonnellsta@marshall.edu.