Student wellness a priority this semester

Paying attention to student wellness — the elements of which include emotional comfort, social well-being, and healthy academic performance — has become a niche at this college over the past few years. This year, first-year orientation revolved around an assemblage of wellness activities, school-wide interest in organizations promoting such activities has skyrocketed, and even the college’s official website has a separate section for student wellness in its various forms. The past few months have heralded new developments in these quarters of life at Swarthmore.

Arguably, the most high-profile of such events over the past few weeks concerning student well-being was the Dialogue on Student Life, held on October 25 in the Scheuer Room. Jointly hosted by the Dean’s Office and Student Council, the event was aimed to facilitate a conversation concerning “a number of student questions and concerns … related to student social life including party permit policies, treatment of party associates, and general issues of civility and community responsibility related to student actions at and following parties on campus,” according to an email sent from Student Council and the Dean’s Office to the student body two weeks ago.

“We at the Dean’s Office and Student Council felt on many levels that student concerns over the general status of their lives on campus were on the rise, which convinced us that an opportunity for students and faculty to collaborate and talk about possible solutions would be really helpful,” said Liz Braun, Dean of Students.

Braun mentioned that the enforcement of a long-standing policy requiring registered parties to be over by midnight from Sunday to Thursday, and the new cleaning fee implemented for social events held at Paces Café were two specific concerns that led to this dialogue, a conversation that Braun described as being very fruitful.

“It was really great to have a conversation in which we could hear a diverse range of student perspectives, and with that said, we will forward the points that were raised throughout the conversation to the Deans’ Advisory Council, with whom the Deans will work to see if we can possibly revise our policies,” Braun said.

The Deans’ Advisory Council is a group of faculty, staff, and students — which include both students appointed by the Student Council Appointments Committee and members of Student Council — who will work with the Deans systematically to plan and implement the revision of many school policies.

Braun also mentioned the appointment of Satya Nelms, the new Wellness Coordinator, this fall as an integral part of the orchestration of wellness activities at the college. Nelms, who works as part of Student Health Services, has assumed the mantle of managing the school’s various wellness resources, ranging from the Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC) to the Student Wellness Awareness Team (SWAT).

According to Braun, this appointment was due to multiple points of information, such as students’ increased usage of Swarthmore’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), that bespoke the usefulness of a Coordinator who would gather student opinions and information on activities concerning wellness into a cohesive whole.

SHAC is a group of students appointed by Student Council and Student Health Services that provides leadership and opportunities for student representation concerning student health. SWAT is yet another group devoted to providing hands-on workshops and lectures to assist students in managing their own emotional and mental well-being.

Another initiative that has slowly but surely seized the attention of the Swarthmore community is the Coping with Anxiety and Stress by Learning Mindfulness Meditation (CALMM) group, a new program offered by CAPSthat formally began last Monday. The CALMM group is a six-week initiative headed by Post-doctoral Clinical Fellows Heejin Kim and Diane Shaffer that provides students with the opportunity to learn how to mediate the stress of daily life at Swarthmore through meditative exercises.

“In the last few years, the amount of student usage of CAPS has increased dramatically,” Dr. David Ramirez, Director of CAPS. Ramirez reported that 156 appointments with CAPS had been made in the last week, which reflects a steady rise in students seeking counseling support. “After active intentional reflection on our part concerning how we could enhance our services, we decided to provide this program as a new resource for students,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez credited the Deans’ Office for giving “tremendous support” throughout the formation of this program.

Besides the CALMM group, which currently consists of eight students, CAPS has expanded its services this year to students by increasing the number of offices and hours available for student counseling. CAPS has also begun working more closely with the Deans’ Office in issues of academic counseling, and Post-graduate Clinical Fellow Patricia Fischette has also worked with the Health Center to respond to cases of sexual assault.

“The Health Center, CAPS, and the Deans’ Office have been attempting to integrate our activities so that we can better offer our resources to our students,” Ramirez said.

Even besides the numbers, students from all over campus consider CAPS as an invaluable asset in maintaining emotional wellness. One first-year student, who chose to remain anonymous, said, “I went to see CAPSbecause I was having a few personal issues and my CA [Campus Advisor] told me it’s a valuable resource to that end. I thought the experience was very helpful in relieving stress and it convinced me to go again once or twice more afterwards.”

While CAPS preserves its values as a source of confidential counseling for students, this transition towards a more streamlined, effective resource is surely a welcome change for all involved.

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