Campus Plans for a Semester of Student Wellness

Author: Katharine Flanagan

Campus Plans for a Semester of Student Wellness

On Mind/Body Mondays, students will receive an email containing an explanation of the relationship between mind and body, and sometimes, advertising an event to attend and apply this knowledge. Wellness Wednesdays will hold interactive programs focused on a variety of topics, such as social connection, mindfulness or coping with stress. Stations around campus will offer kits to boost well-being on Fun Fridays.

These events hint at the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being’s programming goals to support student wellness this semester. All students, faculty and staff also have access to a free subscription to Calm, an app that assists with meditation and sleep. The inspiration for these initiatives came directly from student body input.

“McWell’s most important initiative, and the foundation of good health promotion, is collecting useful data, identifying the critical needs of students, activating the community to respond to those needs and then measuring whether interventions are effective,” said Megan Brown, director of McWell.

McWell has found that managing stress and mood, staying socially connected and meeting academic demands are the biggest concerns for undergraduate and graduate students. To address these needs and integrate wellness strategies into daily life, they planned several recurring initiatives, including the themed days above.

Each month, McWell will focus on a new topic and provide related resources. March’s theme is bouncing back, and future themes include rest, restoration and reflection.

Meet, Greet and Eat allows students to connect with new peers over four virtual dinners, while Connection Groups provide students the opportunity to teach and learn different skills — such as crochet — in a virtual community.

Senior Amanda Jarosik, a senior health and wellness fellow at McWell, spoke of additional resources such as sleep kits, essential oils and study rooms.

“McWell’s mission is solely to be there for the student body,” she said. “So my greatest hope is for that relationship to continue to deepen and for students to take advantage of all the resources available to them.”

Last semester, the university’s Restoration Week aimed to relieve stress among the student body, but was met with disdain from students who felt it didn’t provide an adequate break.

“Although Restoration Week was developed with consultation from students, because students didn’t feel that they had time to take a break and participate, this effort helped to spur a constructive dialogue about the need for days off,” Brown said.

McWell designated three minibreaks to provide a rest for students during a semester without a spring break. These breaks will offer activities built around the themes of rest, play, pray, move and connect.

Though not affiliated with McWell, the campus-wide Calm subscription — proposed by student government — further supports student wellness.

More than 2,600 students, faculty and staff have subscribed, and 60% of those that signed up used the app within one week of signing up. The university’s Undergraduate Experience Advisory Council and the Graduate Studies & Research Council sponsored the initiative, with the current contract extending through January 2022.

“One staff member even shared how her children also enjoy the app because it provides great bedtime stories,” said Christine Caron Gebhardt, assistant vice president for student services. “I use it myself — coming from New England, the beach has always been a source of relaxation for me — so I find myself using the ocean waves recording to wind down and while I am working.”

Gebhardt said the app is targeted toward students who feel stressed or have trouble sleeping; it is not meant as a treatment for all mental health concerns.

Jarosik acknowledged this concern among students, some of whom thought Notre Dame was using the app as a panacea for more rampant mental health concerns on campus.

“No one is expecting the Calm app to do that — it’s just a tool, but a really useful one if you’re willing to try it,” she said, admitting that she was initially skeptical of meditation.

“As someone who struggles with anxiety a lot, the Calm app has been true to its promise. It helps me calm down, breathe, focus and just generally reset when I need it. I really think that it has something for everyone.”

Just as Calm is accessible to all, McWell is working to ensure that their activities are accessible to all students — regardless of their quarantine or isolation status, but Brown acknowledged that there are some things that cannot be solved by anyone or any program.

“The pandemic has been with us almost a year, and we don’t know exactly when it will be over or if we’ll ever return to what we remember as normal,” Brown said. “Nothing McWell or the university does will take away the discomfort of not knowing. All we can do is our best to help each other cope. That is a hard reality.”