In 2015, Staci Gann, founder and executive director of Stand Up for Your Sister, was a resident assistant in Ford Hall. She said most of the students on her floor were freshmen in sororities.
“Women would come and tell me their problems, but they wouldn’t share it with their friends,” she said.
She started Stand Up for Your Sister to promote healthy conversation around mental health and get rid of stigmas associated with it. SUFYS is a Manhattan-based nonprofit to help college-aged women with mental health struggles. The group presents to and works with many different groups of women, including sororities, athletic teams and residence halls.
Gann got the idea for SUFYS after she had to stand in a as a last-minute replacement for someone on her floor who was giving a mental health presentation at their sorority.
“I didn’t think it was a good presentation, I left it trembly and freaked out,” she said. “Then, I heard back from so many women in [the sorority] that night that it was so impactful. And they started talking to other sorority chapters about it. And I started getting invited to other sorority chapters at K-State. So over two years, we grew from nothing to being well developed at K-State and being a household name amongst sorority chapters. It just grew exponentially after that.”
“We wanted … [girls to] talk to other girls about it, walk with each other and let people into their lives to walk with them,” she said.
The mission statement of the organization has three main points: empower, support and educate. Since its founding, SUFYS has grown beyond Kansas State by word-of-mouth, with leadership on multiple campus and teams who travel all around the United States to give presentations.
“We have a leadership team here at K-State, KU and Mizzou,” Gann said. “We’re launching hopefully here soon at Truman State. Those are kind of our main focuses right now. We want our leadership teams to be educated and we want to educate them in order to go and be advocates for the women around them who might need help or guidance.”
Part of empowering women, Gann said, has to do with addressing the shame associated with mental health topics.
“We want to empower women who are suffering and that are struggling in this darkness of shame, is usually what we see,” she said.
Gann said they also financially support women who need assistance or can’t afford to go to counseling.
“We have women reach out to us, we meet them as advocates and just go pay their bill,” Gann said. “No questions asked. Doesn’t have to go through insurance. We just want to help them out however we can.”
There’s been story after story of women learning and growing as a result of their work, she said. When they came back to a sorority a year later to give their presentation again, one person said she wouldn’t have been there if she hadn’t heard the words they’d said.
“We come back, and this girl at the sorority chapter stood and she said, ‘I was at this presentation last year, and I got up and ran out, because I came into that presentation with the intent to kill myself, but my sister followed me out,'” Gann said. “‘We called my parents and I got help. I don’t think I’d be standing here today if it wouldn’t have been for this presentation.’”
At another sorority, Gann said a group of women struggling with bulimia formed a support group after attending the SUFYS presentation. Last she heard, Gann said, the majority of them were in recovery.
Gann graduated in 2018 with a degree in family studies and human services and wants to continue her work with SUFYS.
“I have such a passion instilled in me that has inspired me to do this,” she said. “Part of my own story has inspired me to do this. I just have a lot of personal motivation and drive and want to see an impact in the lives of women.”
This past fall, they launched Building Brotherhood, a similar group designed for men.
“It’s blown up,” she said. “It’s growing fast. It’s been really awesome to watch that growth happen.”
Gann said she gives so much credit for the work they’ve accomplished to the leadership team at K-State, which consists of 70 to 80 individuals.
“We invite anyone to be on our leadership team that wants to be educated,” she said. “I wouldn’t personally be able to run this organization without them, so they’re kind of the backbone of what we do.”