There are two sides to every story and two sides of every mask. Third year Colorado State University student, Kayla Wong, has gone to great lengths to expose this truth.
As the mastermind behind “Remove the Masks,” a project which started as just a class assignment, Wong has now transformed her passion into a life mission to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention.
Wong is a Communication Studies major with a minor in Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Arts Advocacy, and the Public. In the fall of 2014, Wong took a course, Advocacy in the Visual and Performing Arts, which ultimately changed her own.
Wong and her fellow classmates were assigned to take the elements learned in class and apply them to a final project, which called for students to use any form of the arts to advocate for a social cause.
“When I heard about the assignment, the first thought I had was suicide prevention. I am passionate about suicide prevention and mental health awareness, but I know that it is a taboo, scary topic in society. I did not want to turn people away, so I had to find an easier way to have the conversation,” Wong said.
This is when “Remove the Masks” came to mind. She wanted to create an opportunity for people to reflect on the difference between what they present to society compared to what thoughts and feelings they keep within.
“Every person has an identity that is more than skin deep,” Wong said. “Every person has a story that the world does not allow them to share because of stigmas. This suppression of emotions can lead to mental health concerns and later suicidal thoughts or actions.” As a result, she scoured through campus and the greater Fort Collins community looking for participants to help facilitate the project, and more broadly, the conversation surrounding mental health.
Wong provided willing participants with paper masks to express the two sides of themselves. On one side, they wrote what they outwardly display. On the other side, they wrote what most people don’t see. Wong then posted these anonymous masks to the Facebook page she created.
“People responded positively to the project and had no problems with me posting them on social media. I made sure to stay vague on where the masks were coming from so that no one could track them back to the participant,” she said.
After Wong gave her final presentation on the assignment to the class, her project came to a standstill. That was until the following winter break when her Facebook page started to receive considerable attention.
“People started to message this Facebook page which is not connected with my personal page. They were sharing their stories and reaching out for support. It was then that I realized how great of a need there was for a safe space to engage in conversation around this topic,” she said. Consequently, Wong created a website and other social media for the project.
Her passion has since then continued to flourish and her recognition has continued to increase. Wong was contacted by The Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County and asked to be involved in the Taking Strides to Save Lives and Remembrance Walk 5k which was held April 4 of this year.