A Conversation with Raveena Sarai, Founder of NAMI on Campus Club at UW Bothell

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Despite all the positive work of the club, funding remains limited, hindering longevity and further expansion. NAMI, a non-profit 501(c)(3), accepts donations to fund much of their work.

We leave our readers with one final comment from Raveena: 

“I hope the club still exists in 5 years; I wish people cared enough.”



A Conversation with Raveena Sarai, Founder of the NAMI on Campus Club at UW Bothell


Pictured Left: Raveena Sarai, Co-Founder of NAMI on campus. Photo provided by Raveena Sarai taken by Gurinder Athwal


Like many in the post-pandemic era, our class met remotely over Zoom, sat in front of our computers, in our homes and offices, and prepared to take notes on the interview. Our fellow UW Bothell student, Raveena Sarai, one of the few who have turned their webcam on, joins our class. In her webcam, we can see that she is seated at a desk. While she opts to blur her background, we can make out décor hung up on the far wall; it looks like some kind of vine or plant. Raveena has her hair down and wears minimal jewelry, with only a pair of earrings and a nose ring visible. 


Raveena comes across with a joyful personality, often smiling between her words. After exchanging brief pleasantries, our interview begins.


Could you tell us about yourself?


RS: For sure, Professor [Laura Umetsu] did a little bit. But I am a health studies major. I’m graduating this quarter, actually!  And I do want to be a PA. I’m currently working as a medical assistant at a derm(atology) clinic. I think that’s kinda the gist about me.

 She seems comfortable during the interview, smiling often,and looking into the camera, taking only brief pauses to quickly collect her thoughts. 


You’ve indicated that you’re working towards a degree in health studies to become a physician’s assistant. Did aspects of mental health play a role in making this decision? Additionally, did this influence your choice to move to the University of Washington?


RS: I moved to UW [The University of Washington] from Gonzaga for personal reasons and to be closer to family. But the reason why I was so interested in starting on, having a significant role in mental health, and becoming a PA is because PAs are considered secondary providers to doctors, similar to nurse practitioners. So, usually, you’re able to see [PAs] a lot easier as opposed to seeing a doctor. From word of mouth and much research, many people trust their nurse practitioners or PAs much more. And so, as that kind of provider that already has a more trusting personality per se or role. I wanted to learn more about how to be a better mental health advocate. So, when I am a provider, I can help people accordingly.


Share your experience with your previous professor, Sunita Iyer. How did your paths cross, and what were her words that particularly struck a chord with you?


RS: Dr. Sunita Iyer was among the first professors I encountered at UW Bothell. And if you’ve ever met her, you’ll see what I mean. She is very open and genuine, so I was instantly intrigued when she spoke to her class about how she wanted to bring NAMI to UWB. I didn’t know much about NAMI, so she was like, “Just come to this general meeting. I’ll explain more if you don’t like it—no big deal.”


And then I ended up liking it, and that’s why I’m here. But she is just a perfect advisor and a great person. I think if she’d never brought it up to me, or if another professor did, I wonder if I would have gone through with it. But who knows?


Pictured right: Professor Sunita Iyer stands in the middle of the club officer photo. She acts as the club advisor on behalf of the UW Bothell Campus. Photo provided by Raveena Sarai, photographer unknown.


Since NAMI is about mental health advocacy, What experiences led you to speak with us today?


RS: Well, I was interested in speaking with you all because I wanted to share what NAMI is like from my perspective. As well as how NAMI on campus is. Hopefully, I could encourage more people to join the club, become a NAMI volunteer, or just simply know more about what NAMI is. Previously, I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about what NAMI is but this experience has been an eye-opener. So, I hope to persuade at least one person in either section to feel the same way.


After joining NAMI and being a co-founder of the club at UWB, have you seen a difference in your lifestyle?


RS: Raveena thinks about how to answer this question briefly. “I guess NAMI on campus has forced me to be more social? And so at my other university [Gonzaga], I wasn’t very social, to be honest, and that led to me not being very happy there, so I wanted to definitely wanted to change my habits. When I came to UWB, just starting the club, I was able to speak to so many more people, meet many people, and learn a lot more, which made me learn way way way more about mental health and how that affects me.”


 How can one join NAMI Eastside or the NAMI Club on campus?


RS: Joining NAMI on campus [is] super easy. You can just attend our meetings, register on a presence page, and then boom! You’re a member, and you could also become an officer. I know in the spring we will be posting more about that. There’ll be some positions that are opening so becoming an officer member is the best way ‘cause you get super super involved, especially because our meetings, as of now, are pretty sporadic. And then join on Eastside; you can easily become a volunteer there. I’m also a volunteer outside of NAMI on Campus, and it was quite easy to do so, so I can put the volunteer form in the chat. If you’re interested in that.


To close out our interview, What are your goals for the NAMI club in the next year? How about the next five years?


RS: Really, our mission is to provide resources and advocacy around mental health issues that students face at UWB, you know, battle. And so I hope that continues to happen. And really as, like, from like a club President/founder perspective.


Pictured above: The NAMI club hosts their bracelet-making booth; Raveena mentioned briefly that the act of bracelet-making provided an alternative way to meditate, temporarily eliminating all of life’s headaches by keeping just enough of a distraction. Photo provided by Raveena taken by Malaika Ashraf, former NOC event coordinator.


The NAMI on Campus Club has provided a safe space for students to address their mental health needs, offering programs that connect individuals facing mental health challenges with peer-to-peer support and hosting events focused on mental health. Raveena Sarai’s background as a first-generation American helps address the stigma surrounding mental health within more culturally diverse communities; the club does its best to embody the cultural diversity of the campus to assist further. 


Despite all the positive work of the club, funding remains limited, hindering longevity and further expansion. NAMI, a non-profit 501(c)(3), accepts donations to fund much of their work.


We leave our readers with one final comment from Raveena: 

“I hope the club still exists in 5 years; I wish people cared enough.”