For the past several years, the #IUPLeads campaign has provided an outlet for IUP student groups to share alternatives to attending large, unofficial campus gatherings during high-celebratory events. This year, considering COVID-19 and the difficulties IUP students face regarding increased mental health issues, the campaign pivoted its function by encouraging student groups to share messages about these challenges via social media.

In January 2021, #IUPLeads organizers Ann Sesti, Kevin Foster, and Caitlin Aiello adjusted the timing and purpose of #IUPleads to address these current, most pressing issues facing IUP students. The organizers decided to pivot the operation, advertising to student groups and group leaders an opportunity to earn up to $200 for their organizations by registering their group's intent to participate via Crimson Connect, signing up and attending a Green Bandana Project training, and posting at least 10 times via their group's social media accounts with COVID-19 safety and stress-reducing/healthy coping tips February 8-19 using #IUPLeads. Funding was made possible through the offices of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, Administration and Finance, Enrollment Management, University Advancement, and the Office of the President. Fourteen student organizations completed all the requirements of the project.

The Green Bandana Project is a program designed to spread awareness of resources for those with mental illness. The lime green bandanas, to be distributed across campus, are attached to students' backpacks. This indicates that these students are a safe individual to approach with mental health-related issues, that they know where resources are, and that they hold a few resource cards with outlets to get help and support in times of crisis (resources include university and community agencies, as well as national hotlines). Not only does the program give tangible resources to these students to share with others, it also provides visible unspoken support and builds awareness about the issue of mental health. If someone sees a lime green bandana on the backpack of a stranger, it is a sign of stigma-free, quiet solidarity. They will know that they are not alone in their struggle.

More than 90 students participated in the Green Bandana Project training through the #IUPLeads campaign. Students who completed the training posted images of a green bandana on their social media pages and were provided green bandanas to wear.

Organizations were permitted to utilize their favorite social media site to post their messages. Of the fourteen groups, more than 175 social media posts were shared via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Some groups even went above and beyond the 10-post minimum. The Haven Project topped the list with 26 posts, and Phi Beta Lambda (Future Business Leaders of America) came in at a close second with 20 posts.

“I was blown away by the wonderful response we received from our participating student organizations,” Aiello said. “Five groups posted beyond the minimum requirement! But, the most impressive aspect of the #IUPLeads campaign, for me, was how thoughtful the groups' messages were. Their copy and design were incredibly well-thought-out and beautifully executed. Our students more than rose to the occasion of using social media as a tool to influence their peers.”

Foster, Sesti, and Aiello would like to thank all student groups who participated in #IUPleads, IUP's vice presidents and president for support and funding, and the Division of Marketing and Communications, who designed an Instagram graphic for students to use in conjunction with their social media posts.

Foster commented, “#IUPLeads was incredibly successful, and we are forever thankful to those who supported its efforts to see it through to a great conclusion.”

Sesti continued, “Though we pivoted the #IUPLeads campaign to address COVID-19, as well as stress-reducing and healthy coping topics, we didn't want to forget about the potential for Saint Patrick's Day gatherings among our students. So, in mid-March, we also reached out to the student organizations who participated in #IUPLeads in February and encouraged them to post on social media responsible ways to celebrate the holiday.” The organizers provided some example posts for groups to utilize if they wanted to assist.

Aiello said, “Once again, our students demonstrated their passion, creativity, and commitment to taking care of one another through these campaigns. We are certain this program will grow, and we are excited to have the #IUP Leads program become a tradition for IUP.”