Student Wellness Project

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In Fall 2011, Wilfred Chan wrote the following in The Eye[1]:

"As the saying goes, “In order to change, we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Our meeting with Dean Valentini after Tina’s death inspired me to start an open movement called the Student Wellness Project. Now comprised of students from all four undergraduate schools, including members of the groups like Stressbusters, the Student Health Advisory Committee, the Columbia Neuroscience Society, and the student councils, the project has one aim: to creatively and pragmatically combine students’ ideas to promote wellness at Columbia. We’ve begun to lay the groundwork for an online student-run wellness hub that will centralize campus resources; a new peer-to-peer wellness mentoring program; improved NSOP programming about mental health and stress; a student-led healthy eating co-op; and campus puppy therapy, just to name a few."

While SWP initially received a lot of attention after this Eye article was widely shared (over 1,800 times), the scope and ambition of the project has since been scaled back. As of 2013, SWP is less of a campus movement as it is a small group of student advocates.

Activities

The best way to understand SWP is a small advocacy group that is trying to represent voices of students whose experiences tend to get drowned out at Columbia - i.e. those with mental illness or other wellness-related issues. Initiatives have included : A wellness summit that brought together multiple mental-health and health related student groups as well as members of Res Life and the administration to try and create proposals for reform; an annual Random Acts of Kindness Week; a staff-wide training session for Student Affairs about mental health issues that was inspired by the aforementioned Eye article; a sub-committee started by Deaton Jones that aims to provide resources for students who have experienced the loss of a family member; the development of the Freshman P/D/F academic reform proposal; a Common Meal with the Office of the Chaplain to discuss spiritual wellness; and more. As part of their role as advocates, SWP members routinely challenge the administration in campus media and in private meetings. Current issues that SWP is pushing for (as of Spring 2013) include holistic CPS reform, review of the mandatory leave of absence policy, NSOP reform, first-year academic requirements reform, and more.

Contrary to an impression held by some (see 'Criticism'), SWP is hardly comprised of so-called "campus elites". Instead, it is a small, organization and a safe space made of diverse students who commonly have been personally affected by wellness issues on campus and are working along multiple fronts to try and improve holistic student wellness issues at Columbia. Their most visible events tend to be more feel-good initiatives like Random Acts of Kindness week, but behind the scenes SWP works hard to to reform structural student health issues at Columbia. Organizationally, there is little that is "top-down" about SWP, unless you think "top-down" means ten kids meeting every Sunday in a Lerner room trying to figure out how to use an annual budget of $300 to get an unresponsive administration to listen to them and finally create some reforms to make this school a less difficult place to be a healthy person.

Criticism

The validity of the SWP rests upon the premise that a top-down effort, staffed by campus elites, can effect real social change (i.e. foment a sense of culture). More to come.

References

  1. http://eye.columbiaspectator.com/?q=article/2011/12/01/how-were-doing
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