Student Wellness Center launch sees high turnout

by Caroline Berens | 11/11/15 7:59pm

On Wednesday afternoon, students and administrators ambled around on the third floor of Robinson Hall, chatting with one another while snacking on chocolate trail mix, fresh fruit and crackers with hummus. In another room, students sat at a table using watercolors to paint pages from a drawing book. In adjacent rooms, people got massages and practiced meditation.

These were just a few scenes from the launch of the Student Wellness Center, which marks a transition from the previous Student Health Promotion and Wellness Center, which had been in place for several years, director Caitlin Barthelmes said.

In recent years, the center had been focused on responding to high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and sexual assault, Barthelmes said. This new center, she said, will instead be centered around examining those issues and others from a more preventative lens.

“We’re looking to try to work with students to understand the underlying issues that contribute to those behaviors, but also to help students think about themselves holistically and really reflect on the multiple dimensions of wellness,” she said.

Barthelmes said the center’s goal is to make sure that students are thriving in their daily lives, not just getting by.

Wellness program coordinator Maria Sperduto said the launch party, which ran for two hours, was intended to introduce students to the center’s numerous resources that they can utilize at their leisure.

Students can use the massage chair, create works in the art therapy corner or occasionally play with a small puppy named Mochi, among other options, Barthelmes and Sperduto said. Sperduto said the center wanted to expose students to the warm and inviting atmosphere of the space, which she said is one of its greatest benefits.

“The positive vibe and safe, comforting energy is what I think makes students come back once they’ve been here,” Sperduto said.

Students can also come into the center for wellness check-ins, which Barthelmes said are intended to allow students to vent or discuss their stresses.

“We’re listening ears and a sounding board for students to come with something they’re trying to work on, and they can work with us through that particular behavior and hopefully we can help come up with a concrete plan for them,” Barthelmes said.

Barthelmes said that these check-ins are different from counseling sessions at Dick’s House because these sessions are not intended to diagnose students, nor are they intended to facilitate long-term solutions in regards to mental health.

“Wellness check-ins are not intended for moments of crisis, although we would of course talk with students who are very upset,” Barthelmes said. “But the idea is hoping to catch things early, where students are just starting to feel stressed out.”

Having a wellness center is an integral part of having a healthy studentbody and faculty, director of the Cornell University Wellness Program Beth McKinney said. Although their program is primarily for faculty and administrators, it offers resources to students through fitness and wellness classes.

McKinney said the wellness center has grown enormously since its inception 26 years ago, as people saw its benefits in not only physical, but also emotional health. She said the program offers similar resources as Dartmouth’s Student Wellness Center will, such as yoga classes and pet therapy.

Having a wellness center or program provides motivation for people to check in with themselves, because they might not think to do so on their own, McKinney said.

“Most students have an idea of what they can do to be more stress-free, but when a university offers them a wellness program and opportunity to learn more and to experience it, they’re likelier to actually take action,” McKinney said.

Barthelmes emphasized that the center uses research-based practices to help develop methods of wellness and de-stressing that have proven track records of success.

Student reception to the launch party and the center overall was overwhelmingly positive, as evidenced by the event’s popularity and high turnout. All nine rooms of the center were packed throughout the evening.

Ying Lin ’16 said she was happy about the center’s transition and the reaffirmation and increased publicity of its goals.

“I think it’s super cool that the office has been able to rebrand itself as the Student Wellness Center and make it more clear that they’re a space that’s trying to help student engage in and take control of their wellness,” Lin said.

Lin also said she was encouraged by the high turnout of the event and that she is happy people are being introduced to the center’s many resources, which might be underutilized due to a lack of awareness.

Abigail Baldwin ’18 also said the center did a great job advertising the launch party by stationing a tent handing out kettle corn right in front of Robinson Hall. Baldwin said the abundance of quality food at the party upstairs drew students in.

Becca Suydam ’18, who spent time coloring at the “Creation Station,” said she found the event very relaxing, especially since she had just taken an exam.

Sperduto said the program’s coordinators had not discussed a specific number of students they thought would attend, but the turnout surpassed their expectations.

She pointed to the “Affirmation Station” — a room where the walls were covered in affirmative quotes like “I am kind” and “I am a good listener” — as evidence of this. At the end of the event, in addition to the original quotes, there were also Post-Its that students had put up, saying things like “I went to bed early,” “I called my family” and “I didn’t do work last night, and it’s okay.” Sperduto cited these Post-Its, as well as a discussion in her office where students opened up about being homesick, as evidence to her that the launch party was successful.

Overall, Barthelmes said that fostering a community that endorses and embraces wellness has both short-term and long-term benefits.

“We’re trying to cultivate a campus that supports positive well-being, because those skills will not only serve students well while they’re here at Dartmouth, but will also be good life skills as they navigate the world beyond Dartmouth,” she said.