iHeal: Collective Healing through the Power of the Arts and Music


Robert “Jerry” Pfeifer

COLLECTIVE HEALING: iHeal organizer Juny Ardon empowers students to heal.

Less than a month ago, senior Juny Ardon was a passionate Colgate student with skills as an artist and aspirations as an activist but little practical experience organizing or hosting events. Given recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the overturn of Roe V Wade and the recent death of Tyre Nichols, Ardon has felt that there has not been sufficient space for like-minded individuals to collectively grieve, heal and spread awareness for everything that has happened in only her four years at university. 

Despite the seemingly overwhelming resistance and obstacles, Ardon decided that she would try her best to create such a space even in her last semester at Colgate. Ardon recalled how she contacted cultural student organizations such as the Black Student Union, Queer and Trans People of Color and the Latin American Student Organization for help—she even went to the office of Garry Ross, the Jones and Wood Family Vice President of Admission and Financial Aid, to help obtain a faster response from President Brian W. Casey. However, what Ardon noticed ignited progress was the “iHeal – Letter to the Community” she sent to directly appeal to her peers and everyone she knew for support. Her requests were heard and answered. 

On the evening of Saturday, April 8, La Casa was decorated with balloons, paper honeycomb balls, and a large teal ribbon at the center that read “We believe in you” to support survivors of sexual violence. iHeal’s artistic aesthetic was meant to appear vibrant and distinct in the uniformity of the surrounding building to create a more inviting atmosphere.

The goal of iHeal was to support students suffering from grief and spotlight attention on those grievances from a holistic perspective. The event seemed to avoid excessive attention on a single issue and rather took a collective and inclusive approach of spreading positivity through recovery messaging and imagery that appeared to invite everyone, no matter their hardship. 

iHeal was an event dedicated to healing through arts, crafts and music that attracted a large assembly of students. iHeal’s numerous sponsors included the Center for Women’s Studies, the Counseling Center, Haven, the Writing Speaking Center, the ALANA Cultural Center and the Student Government Association. Despite the tremendous adult, faculty and staff presence attending the event, iHeal was almost entirely led and hosted by student volunteers. 

iHeal featured Joy Stations, which provided three outdoor activities and one indoor activity led by volunteers, including Time Capsule Love Letter Writing (to your past, present or future self), led by senior Lucy Langan; Friendship Bracelet Making, led by senior Nataly Zarzuela; Feel Your Feels Jean Painting led by Haven: Sexual Violence Survival Support; and finally, a Meditation Room with Grief Installation Included (board games, art & art supplies, music, etc.) led by sophomore Hope Sacco. Ardon gave special thanks to Carolina Chavez and Jose Arriaza, who were in charge of public relations for the event and are responsible for all the posters and fliers distributed around campus. 

Ardon, who led and coordinated the event and was the sole speaker, gave a speech to over 50 people, explaining the significance of iHeal and underscoring the importance of “collective” support. Ardon presented the idea of iHeal as an opportunity for freedom, love, healing and “radical release”— being honest, unafraid and outspoken. 

Ardon explained that the idea for this event began developing during her first year at Colgate. She described how a liberal arts education taught “theoretical knowledge” and conceptualized a “liberating world” extremely well, yet still  failed at “weaving heart, mind and body” and implementing the theories into “bodily practice.” Ardon hopes that iHeal and the broader “grassroots” movement it inspires will help people learn to live “wholly within themself,” becoming honest, open and accepting of all the different (i.e., good, bad and ugly) aspects that appear in everyone’s life. 

“We have been desensitized of the tragedies that are happening right now as we’re standing here…. The problem is that we have this idea that these feelings, they magically go away…. This is wrong, our bodies remember and our bodies trap all the things and they fester, fester until one day, boom! To not have a space to heal, feel and be a person before producer is to ask us to die and sacrifice our humanity.”

Sophomore Ella Young said she came to “iHeal with a few friends to show support for the cause [and] Ardon’s project.” Young said she connected with what Ardon said about how national tragedies can impact one’s psyche. Young also said she found it invigorating that healing was done as a community rather than in isolation. 

“Coming to iHeal has definitely made me rethink what my healing journey could look like,” Young said.

Senior Nataly Zarzuela, Ardon’s friend and leader of the friendship bracelet making station, explained that she initially volunteered and attended iHeal to stand in solidarity with her friends because she agreed with what Ardon was trying to accomplish. Zarzuela participated in the event as well as helping to run stations. 

“I think the one healing process that I didn’t know that I needed was the love letter station, so like the act of writing a love letter to myself: past, present or future self. I chose past. I think it was very much needed for me to sit down and write to my past self. It was very intimate, very emotional,” Zarzuela said. 

Zarzuela noted the positive reaction from attendees.  

“It was nice to see people being people for a second on this campus, not talking about assignments, not talking about whatever else happens on this campus, but you know, just existing for a second.”