WSU Hosts Wellness Forum – The Williams Record

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Aregenis Herrera ’22 gives a keynote at the Wellbeing Forum. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Morrow.)

As of October 2021, 57 students had placed their names on the Integrative Wellness Services (IWS) waiting list for counseling appointments. IWS responded to the increased demand for student counseling by adding 50 contract hours per week from its therapists and hiring a second contract psychiatrist, who started in February 2022, to work at the College.

At the opening of the Wellbeing Forum, hosted March 17 in Paresky by the Williams Student Union (WSU), WSU members noted that while the IWS had provided a quick and significant response to increased demand for health services mental well-being for students, student well-being cannot be addressed entirely through a medical approach. As characterized by WSU members, this forum served as a space for students and administrators to come together to discuss how the emotional, physical, and general well-being of students could be better addressed at the Middle School.

According to Jay Kim ’24, a sophomore class representative at WSU, improving mental health and well-being on campus was something WSU had been working on for some time. “We wanted to have a space where students and administrators can all converse about these topics — that’s how the idea for the Wellness Forum was born,” he said.

Kim added that the goals of the forum were two-fold: to inspire discussion and activism among students and to show the College administration how important well-being is to students.

The forum was attended by over 70 students and saw participation from various offices on campus, including the Dean’s Office, IWS, Admissions and Financial Aid Office, Athletics Department, Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR), Chaplains’ Office and the Davis Center.

Cooper Desmond ’24, one of the founders of the Mental Health Advocacy Group – a registered student organization that aims to communicate the mental health status of students to the College administration – said he appreciates the space the forum has created for students to share their views on well-being, in addition to the barriers they have faced to achieve it at the College. “It was definitely a space that I felt people needed,” he said. “I didn’t think so many people would be willing to share truthful experiences, and I was glad a good chunk of the administration came forward. I wish there were more leaders such as teachers and [department] chairs because I thought a lot of what needed to be said was about academics.

At the forum, several students expressed concern about how academics and wellbeing seem separate from each other on campus and called on the College to reconceptualize what it means to succeed academically. Students also spoke of the pressures of meeting academic expectations while balancing their extracurricular activities and social lives and, for many students, navigating structures of inequality and systemic oppression due to their different identities. social. Several students also requested stronger and ongoing communication between faculty, administration, and students on issues of academic workload and welfare.

“The biggest lesson for me is that many students feel like they are living an unbalanced life – that they are spending a lot of time on their studies,” College Dean Marlene Sandstrom wrote in an email. Record. “The second big takeaway is that students are not just open to – but genuinely eager to have more opportunities to focus on their own well-being. Students said they want more opportunities to engage in wellness practices as part of the physical education requirement and as options during the winter study.Students also want to see more courses in the curriculum that focus on aspects of well-being – from a scientific, historical, sociological or economic point of view.

According to Sandstrom, the College wants to focus on providing an intellectually engaged, healthy, accessible and inclusive education and different offices on campus, like IWS, The SAPR and the Sports Department have begun to work together to this end. She added that the new Teaching Center was created to help teachers identify and share successful practices in the area of ​​“healthy teaching”. For Sandstrom, “[this includes practices] such as determining what might be a reasonable workload for a course or for particular classes, how to schedule homework over the duration of the semester so that it does not all cluster together at once, how to incorporate flexibility so that students with different learning styles can find comfortable ways to show off their progress.

Kim said he believed the forum served its purpose, with many offices contacting WSU after the forum to hold more discussions. “Personally, I felt like I learned a lot, and it seemed like the admin felt the same way,” he said. “Many [members of the administration] came to us wanting to meet to talk about what we could do together for the student body.

Argenis Herrera ’22, a senior WSU representative, said the forum was a step toward solving the mental health crisis on campus and shared some next steps for WSU. “In the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing a comprehensive Williams Survival Guide that will include mental health and wellness resources, ways to navigate campus bureaucracy, and tips for getting what you want during your stay,” he said. “We really hope to keep this topic relevant and continue to shine a light on the student’s plight. Our work will not be done until we can overcome these challenges as a community.

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