Multicultural Student Affairs and Counseling Center’s healing circles empower the fight for equity and liberation

BIPOC Radical Healing Circles offer alternative approaches to mental health care for students of color at UM. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Edward Boatman, Community Health Advocate - The Noun Project

Offering a space to reflect on the impacts of systematic oppression and healing from generational traumas, “Radical Healing Circles” have become a haven for students who are black, indigenous and people of color at the University of Miami.

“We need healing spaces led by and for BIPOC people who intimately understand our vast experiences,” said Luna Plaza, a BIPOC healer and double major in psychology and gender and sexuality studies. “When the standard is not empathy, intersectionality and decolonization, it is not a safe space for Black and Brown people.”

Facilitated by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the Counseling Center, the most recent healing circle took place on Feb. 29 in the Counseling Center’s multipurpose room.

Chairs were arranged circularly, engaging all 15 people and creating connections. Healing bundles consisting of shells, herbs, plants and candles were laid in the center of the circle to symbolize intention, connection and purpose.

Leader Luna Plaza began the event by setting group norms including being genuine, honest, omitting gendered language and honoring each other’s experiences to create a safe space for everybody. Followed by a land acknowledgement, she highlighted how settler colonization was integral in the displacement of Indigenous peoples.

Beginning with an ice-breaker, the group discussed several methods they had been using to cope with recent events and their personal life. There was a primary focus on the Israel-Hamas War currently happening in Palestine and Israel. Several tears were shed as the discussion progressed, and the faint sound of sniffling could be heard throughout the room as attendees expressed personal experiences, stories and feelings. The circle provided an environment of support and understanding, allowing the group to feel comfortable being vulnerable and facilitating the healing process.

“Healing can happen in different ways particularly for BIPOC communities,” said Kisha Bazelais, staff psychologist at the Counseling Center. “It can happen by just being in a community together and knowing that people in that space are there because of shared interest, identities, etc.”

The healing circle concluded as Plaza shared community resources for specifically Palestinian mental health and led a guided meditation, learning the practice through the Sunflower Collective, a cohort of Black mental health professionals.

“Meditations are great practices to close out a healing circle,” said Plaza. “We need to recenter our bodies and take a moment to remind ourselves of our needs and our beautiful, long journey of healing.”

Providing more than just healing, the University’s BIPOC Radical Healing Circles also stand as a collective voice against systemic racism and cultural assimilation. These spaces have become a beacon of empowerment, allowing BIPOC people to use their voices in discussions and speak with their heart, something they may not have felt comfortable, or socially safe, to do so otherwise. These passionate discussions cultivate a stronger sense of identity and validates the feelings, thoughts and beliefs of attendees, which generates confidence and is essential in the stand against racism.

Celebrating traditions and cultures in healing circles through group activity also enables the reclamation of heritage, ensuring that culture is not forgotten, but honored.

“Healing can happen by engaging in a collective activity together, whether that be dance, meditation, storytelling, sharing food together or drumming,” said Bazelais. “We are intentional in our monthly BIPOC radical healing to reconnect to ancestral and indigenous forms of healing.”

Since February 2022, the University has been holding radical healing circles monthly and welcoming several guest speakers, educators and guides to lead participants through the healing process. The gatherings are held in different locations across campus, offering a wide variety of healing practices and techniques for attendees to improve their well-being and mental health.

Attendees are encouraged to hold space for people where they currently are and to honor the experiences of others to empower the community. What is learned is intended to leave the circle, and what is shared is intended to stay.

Compassion, patience and inclusivity remains at the epicenter of the University’s values, and the BIPOC Radical Healing Circle provides an environment highlighting these values, needed for everyone to be heard and heal.

“Our intention is to amplify and center the experiences and voices of the communities we curate spaces for,” said Plaza. “Through healing circles, we are creating a space for our community with free support and resources that uplift and support an individual’s need for emotional care.”

The University’s BIPOC radical healing circles are free for everyone to attend and express themselves. The dates, times and locations of upcoming events can be found on the Counseling Center’s Instagram (@umcounselingcenter) and with QR code links for registration.