Mt. SAC Counselor Mentors Students Towards Mindfulness

In an age of anxiety and depression, Professor Andrea Torres is still helping students and faculty through meditation

Photo+by+Vanessa+Feliciano%2FSAC.media.

Photo by Vanessa Feliciano/SAC.media.

Whether it’s in the classroom or online, Adjunct Professor and counselor Andrea Torres is always willing to help not only her students but also faculty members.

“I always love to connect with students, and just really help guide them through their journey, wherever they are,” Torres said. “It is always through telling my own story or just really letting them know that whatever the journey, however long it takes them, it’s okay.”

Torres understands struggles and being in a difficult situation. From a young age, Torres faced many things that she said broke her.

“My parents had a very challenging relationship. They divorced when I was 13 years old. Even before that I just faced a lot of different abuse, all types of abuse,” Torres said.

Her parents’ divorce was her tipping point.

“By the time my parents got divorced I was 14, I was lost. I was just a lost adolescent girl,” Torres said. “I connected with a boy, it wasn’t the best choice for me. I experimented with marijuana, drinking and then got pregnant when I was 15-years-old, which completely changed my life.”

When she looked at her baby, Torres knew her life needed to change. She was inspired by her sister who is eight years older than her. Her sister went to school and Torres knew that was important.

“I knew I was going to be the only support system for my daughter. And so, I began to go to school,” Torres said. “I was an 18-year-old single mother. I knew school was a way to create a better life.”

Torres started Mt. SAC with a 2-year-old at home. College is a difficult time for many, but being a parent with a young child can make life more difficult.

“I would drop off my daughter at school, she would be in school for the day and during the day I would work and then my mom, more than likely, would pick her after school because then I would go straight to school myself,” Torres said.

“I struggled with a lot of things, different types of addictions, all the while being a mom and going to school,” she said. “And then my stuff started coming up, like my traumas and those kinds of things.”

Torres wanted help, so she began attending therapy at Project Sister in Pomona. Being a first generation American and going to therapy wasn’t easy for Torres.

“I know a lot of our families don’t, culturally sometimes, say ‘go get help, go access these things,’ because we’re seen as crazy, or like we don’t need that. We’re weak if we have to get help,” Torres said. “Back then it wasn’t something I told anybody for sure. Now I’ll go tell everybody, but back then, I didn’t.”

Going to therapy and school started Torres on a new journey of mindfulness which would eventually change her life.

“Through my education, I started reading books. I really found that books were helpful to me for my own healing. I read a book called ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ by Louise Hay, and it started to give me the idea of positive affirmations, and healing yourself through self care,” Torres said. “Through therapy, it really just started helping me to go on a healing journey. And that’s how I found meditation, and mindfulness and breath work.”

According to the Mt. SAC health center page, “Mindfulness is paying attention to our experience in a way that allows us to respond rather than react. It is a quality of inner-stillness that is always available, even when life or circumstances feel out of our control and chaotic.”

But even through all her struggles, Torres was able to earn her diploma from Mt. SAC seven years after she started. She transferred to the University of La Verne where she received her Bachelors in Sociology. She would later also receive her Masters in Counseling and a Master’s in Marriage and Family from the University of La Verne.

Torres has been teaching at Mt. SAC for 14 years and through that during that time she has seen a major shift for student’s mental health.

“I have been seeing more and more students with issues of anxiety. That was even before the pandemic and now with the pandemic it’s off the charts,” Torres said. “What people are going through is very normal. That doesn’t mean that we have any more coping mechanisms out there.”

Liana Stephenson,19, Animal Science major, said “I started to get my anxiety when I was a sophomore in high school, but got worse during my junior and senior year. It makes me face my feelings. I feel like I can’t breathe sometimes, and not being worthy of a person and not being someone’s favorite or first choice.”

About a year ago, Torres paired with the student health center to create a weekly program where students and faculty can meditate. According to the Mt.SAC health center page, “Meditation involves practice that consists of many techniques such as mindfulness and breath work that can help train and condition the mind to be calmer, kinder and patient.”

“I really wanted to create a safe space where people would come and connect, and just have those moments of stillness,” Torres said. “And really know that your breath, and your body are there for you to access them.”

Chris Salazar, 20, Business Administration major, attended the Mindfulness 101 session via Zoom.

“I joined the meeting because it was offered in my world religions honors class for extra credit,” Salazar said. “I saw it way more as a way to relax myself cause it had been a long week. It helped me a lot. It allowed me to relax and get my mind off of school and work for a bit.”

Due to the pandemic, the sessions are now being held on Zoom. There is a session held weekly for students and another weekly session for faculty as well.

“I think people are continuously coming because it’s offered weekly, but also the fact that there’s access now,” Torres said. “People can come and they don’t have to show themselves, they can just come and be there.”

Access the sessions can be found at the Mt. SAC Health Center Mindfulness website, where participants can sign up for intimate weekly sessions. Also included on the website there are tools to guide a journey towards mindfulness, including a video with instructions on how to meditate.