Administration developing student health program
By Lindsay Ellis, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, October 5, 2012
A comprehensive wellness program that aims to leverage existing campus resources for students will likely be in place by the end of this academic year, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said.
The College is currently seeking to hire a wellness director by Winter term to lead the program, which is tentatively called Wellness First and will encompass physical and psychological wellness as well as civic engagement, according to Johnson. The program will also connect these types of wellness with Career Services.
“We’re talking about elevating the concept and expanding it so students better understand the holistic process of wellness and how everything is connected,” Johnson said. “What you do at midnight, or the alcohol you ingest or the activity that you undertake — that’s connected to your performance the next day in the classroom.”
Wellness First will combine programming with educational initiatives, but the wellness director will design its specifics, Johnson said.
“As opposed to executing my vision, I want to make sure this person can make a significant contribution,” she said.
An initial search for a wellness director occurred last spring but failed because recruited candidates pursued other options.
The ideal candidate for the position would have hard skills like experience in academia or health promotion in corporate offices, and “soft skills” like the ability to energize the student body, Johnson said.
“We’re not pigeonholing ourselves into a specific sort of background,” she said.
Because the College increased its wellness programming in past years — with the addition of Dartmouth Peak Performance for athletes, increased access to counseling and student health services and the hiring of more athletic trainers with extended hours — the new program will not require a large financial investment, Johnson said.
Students said that more attention to wellness could positively affect students’ mental health.
“At Dartmouth, it’s a closeted issue,” Sexual Assault Peer Advisor Katie Randolph ’14 said. “By launching this program with press coverage and more public programs and initiatives to discuss wellness, hopefully it will get students to seek help if they need it.”
Kate Shelton ’14, a Sexpert and an Eating Disorder Peer Advisor, called promoting emotional and mental health a good change in direction from students’ constant focus on fitness and counting calories.
“I worry sometimes about Dartmouth students because of the pressures we put on ourselves,” she said. “We forget that part of our job is to take care of ourselves and each other. Campus wellness would put that into everyone’s heads.”
Discussions of wellness are sometimes stigmatized at Dartmouth, so a new approach could encourage students to use health services, Elizabeth Hoffman ’13, a member of the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, said.
The language with which organizations talk about wellness impacts their programming, Randolph said. The SAPA program, for example, changed its terminology from “victims” to “survivors.”
“[Calling it] ‘wellness’ is doing the same thing by adding a health focus and focusing on the good, not the bad,” she said.
Some students do not use EDPA’s resources because the group’s name explicitly refers to a disorder, Shelton said.
“No one wants to be told there’s something wrong with them,” she said. “The Wellness First program would help people think, ‘There’s not anything wrong with me, but here’s how I can focus to have a healthier lifestyle.’”
Because peer interactions can be more influential than administrative decrees, the initiative should seek support from student organizations like SAPA, EDPA and Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors in developing the program, according to Sandi Caalim ’13, who has worked with Active Minds at the College.
“It should be a mutual discussion with peers, students and the administration,” Caalim said. “If the students are who they are serving, ask them what they want.”
SPCSA member Will Scheiman ’14 said that the program could mirror Dartmouth Peak Performance by focusing on preventative learning instead of reactionary learning.
Caalim has chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and said the College should be cautious in how it frames its wellness programming. Some students who need help would be wary to seek it from an organization that they think stigmatizes wellness issues, she said.
“I hope it’s constructed in a welcoming way instead of putting you in a box,” she said.
Student involvement will be key to the initiative’s success, especially because some students are skeptical of administrative action, Shelton said. Student organizations could sponsor engaging events that emphasize wellness, like Zumba classes, sustainable organic dinners and yoga clubs, as part of the program, she said.
“Words like screening are difficult — do people attend those?” she said. “Make it exciting, not just a lecture on how to be well.”
Coordinator of the Alcohol and Other Drug Education Program Brian Bowden, Coordinator of the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program Rebekah Carrow and Special Assistant to the President for Student Health Aurora Matzkin ’97 declined requests for comment.
Coordinator of the Nutrition and Eating Disorders Program Claudette Peck, Co-Director of Dartmouth College Health Service Mark Reed, Director of Counseling and Human Development Psychologist Heather Earle did not respond to requests for comment by press time.