Luckily, some private colleges and universities have started implementing programs and resources for students, so they can begin to combat unhealthy coping desires and replace them with positive and beneficial self-help techniques. Two universities in particular, The University of Tampa and Stetson University, actively encourage a holistic approach to wellness for the people on their campuses-students and faculty alike.
Logistics Against Holistics
These people-centric programs offer many benefits; considering that most of these programs are fairly new, however, it is natural that there would be some hiccups along the way. Stetson University’s Director of Wellness and Recreation, Colleen Vanderlip, noted that-more often than not-the students are stretched incredibly thin. Vanderlip states, “Stetson University students are intelligent, curious, creative, and extremely involved on campus. When balancing academics, social activities, volunteer opportunities, and often on-campus employment positions, students must prioritize where they spend their time. Unfortunately, these busy schedules sometimes make it challenging to reach the entire intended audience with wellness programming.”
Lauren Boling, the Coordinator of Facilities & Operations at The University of Tampa, expressed similar concerns. The recent enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is squelching the ability for many interested students to partake in campus events. She further explains that many students who have the desire to participate in campus recreation and wellness events-and possibly even an ardent need to attend those events- are unable to do so because of the logistics related to hourly work with on-campus jobs.
Stetson’s Vanderlip adds that she has found success when she partners events with other campus organizations, because this can help eliminate the “choice” aspect for students.Similarly, involving students in activities that also include faculty or other peer-based groups promotes involvement. Boling from University of Tampa mirrors these sentiments, explaining that activities that involve both students and student-employees provide phenomenal stress relief for everyone.
Students Finding Holistic Health in the Whole
When the average person considers wellness, physical and possibly mental health are likely at the forefront of those thoughts. That said, social and spiritual well-being are equally important-at least in holistic approaches to health. As mentioned by both Boling and Vanderlip, having crossover among wellness and other campus programs tends to be exceptionally successful. On that same note, and perhaps a key to the success of these programs, is that both of these campus programs are heavily promoting students’ leadership and involvement.
Stetson University, for instance, has a student-run Wellness Education for Lifelong Learning (W.E.L.L) program, which is presumed to foster the burgeoning growth of holistic healing and support among the student body. Vanderlip continues, “Peer education draws on the credibility that an individual has with their peers and provides an opportunity for prevention and effective behavior change. With good leadership and a strong peer education group, that is representative of the student population, the goal is to strategically address identified health impediments that are barriers to Stetson student success.”
Boling noted a similar experience with their students at The University of Tampa. She explains, “Students like these [intermural] sports because of the social aspect”; she adds that group exercise offers an effective way for these students to “stay motived and reach fitness goals.” Along with nutritional and mental health guidance being offered by the campus Wellness Center, there are also multiple student-led committees and initiatives. In order to promote student mental and emotional health wellness, there are seasonal student-directed fund raisers and charity events, such as food and toy drives. Students who are not able to be involved in committees can still participate in events and discussions related to sexual health, smoking cessation, and spirituality. One example of an event designed to aid and support students’ wellness is their Sustained Dialogue talks. For instance, recently a talk was held about the presidential election, which offered a safe place for students to discuss their honest feelings, thoughts, and concerns.
Off Campus and On Track
Both Stetson University and The University of Tampa are going the extra mile with their students to promote wellness-literally. At both universities, the students are getting off campus to engage in recreational and positive health experiences. Tampa advocates for off-campus recreational trips, which allow students to “get off campus and clear their heads,” as Boling noted. One activity, for instance, was a paintball field trip, which was a resounding success among those who participated.
Future trips are also planned, such as bike rides to Tampa’s coastal regions. In addition to the W.E.L.L. program at Stetson, there is also S.O.A.R (Stetson Outdoor Adventure Recreation), a program that allows students to explore a wide variety of meaningful outdoor activities. Vanderlip stated, “These activities selected and facilitated by student leaders create space for students to interact with the natural environment and push (but not break) their boundaries. While recreation and leisure provide a wide range of health-related benefits, outdoor recreation can contribute to human health and challenge perceived limitations.” Furthermore, these explorations in nature are designed to not only engage the students’ educational and physical needs, but also address their emotional and even professional needs.
While there is undoubtedly a push to holistic wellness programs in general, this is not yet the norm on university campuses. Instead, there is still the tendency to separate Fitness and Recreation activities from the Counseling and Health services. Part of this separation is undoubtedly a result of a traditional Western view of medicine: treating mental health and physical health as separate issues. We tend to approach the body as a collection of parts to be treated, mended, or “fixed”-while we approach mental or spiritual health as an entirely different set of concerns.
In the near future, we can hope that more university campuses will work to cultivate environments that address their students as the complex beings they are, viewing their mental and spiritual health as intricately and intimately connected to their physical well-being. We can also hope more universities embrace this innovative approach to student wellness which empowers students to improve their own lives by opting for healthy behaviors over unhealthy ones-both in terms of choices that impact their physical bodies and their psychic and spiritual health.