Challenge Week 2022

 About the Theme

Hosted by UCA’s Norbert O. Schedler Honors College, Challenge Week brings to campus a wide range of regional, national, and international thinkers to discuss a specific issue or problem that impacts our society. Speakers present compelling information and arguments, challenging us to see that issue or problem from a new perspective and to take action toward thoughtful change.

Our theme for Challenge Week 2022 is The Mental Health Crisis: Finding Our Way. On March 1, 2022, in advance of President Biden’s first State of the Union address to the nation, the White House released a Fact Sheet on the “National Mental Health Crisis.”

Our country faces an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages. Two out of five adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression. And, Black and Brown communities are disproportionately undertreated – even as their burden of mental illness has continued to rise. Even before the pandemic, rates of depression and anxiety were inching higher. But the grief, trauma, and physical isolation of the last two years have driven Americans to a breaking point.

The goal of this year’s Challenge Week is to explore a wide variety of ways to understand, approach, navigate, and handle individual and collective anxieties, fears, grief, and trauma, drawing on a wide variety of disciplines and practices: history, environmental science, psychology, spirituality, and the arts.

Speaker and Event Preview

From Madness to Mental Illness: The History, Mystery, and Science of How We Understand Ourselves

Dr. Whit Barringer, Ph.D.

Monday, October 24th. 4:00-5:00 p.m.

McAstlain Ballroom

Divine touch. A curse of witchcraft. Demonic possession. A broken machine. A chemical imbalance. A byproduct of society. An environmental affliction. How we understand and think about mental illness, from the way we define it to how we treat it, evolves with us as we are shaped by historical and cultural forces. Exploring how we’ve understood mental illness in the past and how that legacy affects how we understand, stigmatize, and treat mental illness today.

Dr. Whit Barringer will help us explore this history. Dr. Barringer has a PhD in history from the University of Mississippi, where she wrote about the history of mental institutions in the South. She is an alumni of the University of Central Arkansas, where she taught from 2017 to 2022. She currently lives in Baltimore and works as a researcher for the American Historical Association (AHA) in Washington, D.C.

The Role of Emotions in Saving the Planet: An Existential Toolkit for the Climate Movement

Dr. Sarah Jacquette Ray, Ph.D.

Tuesday, October 25th. 6:00-7:00 p.m.

Ida Waldran Auditorium

What will it take to thrive in a climate-changed world? What if our hearts and minds, not solar panels and electric vehicles, are the most important, radical technology for climate justice? How can we live our best lives in the face of so much degradation and injustice? What do love, desire, equanimity, compassion, and critical thinking have to do with saving the planet?

In this talk, Dr. Sarah Jaquette Ray will explore these questions drawing on her book, A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet. The book brings together the social movement theory, environmental justice, climate psychology, and mindfulness to outline strategies for engaging anxiety, grief, despair, but also joy, desire, and pleasure in service of climate justice. Ray will talk about how a new generation of young activists is changing the climate movement and why it’s so important for them and for the planet that we know how to cultivate intellectual and existential skillfulness in our advocacy, no matter what type of work we do.

Bio: Dr. Sarah Jaquette Ray is chair of the Environmental Studies Department at Cal Poly Humboldt in Arcata, California. Ray’s current work is at the intersection of justice, climate emotions, and the interplay between inner resilience and collective action. Her book on this research, A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet (UC Press, 2020), is an existential toolkit for the climate generation. Ray’s writing on emotions and climate justice has been published in the LA Times, Scientific American, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Edge Effects, KCET, and Zocalo Public Square. She consults extensively on the topic of climate anxiety, is working on an edited book, An Existential Toolkit for Climate Justice Educators, and offers a professional development workshop to help center emotions in climate work, the Climate Wisdom Lab.

The Heart of the Matter: An Exploration of Values and the Impact They Have on Your Mental Health

 Kayla Gowin

Wednesday, October 26th. 5:00-6:00 p.m.

Ida Waldran Auditorium

This Challenge Week event is part talk, part workshop session designed to help you isolate your values. Knowing what matters to you most can help you navigate the pressures of everyday life and have a positive effect on your overall mental health.

Kayla Gowin will be your guide. Kayla Gowin, MS, LPC, is a Clinical Instructor and licensed mental health therapist at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. She holds a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology from UCA and has worked with children, adolescents, and adults in a variety of mental health settings. She currently teaches courses for the Department of Psychology and Counseling and serves as the Clinical Field Placement Coordinator for their graduate programs.

Sitting With Turmoil: A Buddhist Perspective

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

Thursday, October 27th. 7:00-8:00 p.m.

Zoom Link

Public discourse surrounding mental health has become more prevalent in the United States, a welcome change from the silence and stigma of the past. We need, however, to be mindful. We place a lot of emphasis on treating and fixing mental health issues and counteracting disruption, chaos, trauma, and uncertainty. To what extent is this “common-sense” approach a Western, medicalized approach? What can we learn from Buddhism, an ancient practice born in present-day Nepal that spread across South and East Asia? During this Challenge Week event we will be asked to question our desire to fix it all and asked to consider the value of being with disruption and turmoil, both around us and inside of us.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel will be our guide. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, born to parents who migrated from rural Louisiana at the start of WWII, is an author, poet, and ordained Zen priest. The essence of all her transmissions come together in her teachings including these books: The Shamanic Bones of Zen: Revealing the Ancestral Spirit and Mystical Heart of A Sacred Tradition; The Deepest Peace: Contemplations From A Season of Stillness; Sanctuary: A Meditation on Home, Homelessness, and Belonging; The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender (print and audio); Tell Me Something About Buddhism, and Black Angel Cards: 36 Oracles and Messages for Divining Your Life. She is contributing author to many anthologies including Dharma, Color, Culture: New Voices in Western Buddhism and Hidden Lamp: Stories From Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women. She holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. She is native Caliornian living in New Mexico. More at

PostSecret and Mental Health: Sharing Secrets, Reducing Stigma, Building Community

Frank Warren

Friday, October 28th. Public Talk, 7:30-9:00 p.m.

Reynolds Performance Hall

This Challenge Week event is sponsored by Reynolds Performance Hall.

Frank Warren is the sole founder of the PostSecret Project, a growing collection of over 1 million artful secrets, mailed to his home on postcards. He has appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, Good Morning America, the Today Show, CNN and NPR talking about the PostSecret Play; the two traveling art exhibits; and the emotional PostSecret events held around the world. There are six PostSecret books including PostSecret Confessions on Life, Death and God, which reached #1 on the New York Times bestsellers list. Frank’s TED talk has been viewed over 3,000,000 times and was called by Forbes, “The #1 TED Talk that Holds the Key to Public Speaking Genius”.  Every month, over four million people visit the award-winning PostSecret website which has raised over one million dollars for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1(800) SUICIDE.