Before we begin, we want to express admiration for all the other groups who applied for a brownstone. We feel truly grateful to be considered alongside them, and appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts here in Spectator.
Since we began the fight for wellness in the Columbia community exactly one year ago, the Student Wellness Project has been guided by three principles: Listen to everyone. Bring people in. Value every individual’s perspective.
Staying true to these ideas, a wellness brownstone will not only be a home for students who want to stay with others who are passionate about healthy living, but a space that welcomes all members of the Columbia community.
We focus so much on inclusiveness because we recognize that the pursuit of wellness means different things to different students—we have friends who battle depression, others who struggle to eat healthy. We know people who face deep loneliness, and others who simply fight to balance their personal lives under a crush of academics and extracurriculars.
The point is, people are obviously under a lot of pressure at Columbia, yet no two experiences are the same. The question becomes, how can we build a community where students can feel accepted, no matter what they’re going through?
It’s a challenge. Sometimes, the more difficulty you’re having, the less welcoming Columbia feels.
After all, we live on a campus where excellence and perfection are unquestioned norms, and where the pressure to live up to a constructed ideal of “success” perpetually leaves students burnt-out in silence—where a 2011 Health Services study identified “stress” as the only commonality among students.
If that’s what passes for community, then we can do better.
We want to create a culture of compassion and well-being. And over this past year, we’ve seen our movement grow. Our biggest event last year, Random Acts of Kindness week, drew over 20 co-sponsoring groups and over 1000 participants. Our advocacy has helped student wellness become a top priority of Dean Valentini and other administrators, who have begun working with us and other campus groups to make sure that ordinary students get proper resources, support, and advising. And in our own lives, we’ve seen a dialogue about wellness blossom where there was once only silence.
Slowly but surely, this campus is making appreciable strides towards a supportive atmosphere in which students feel safe, not ashamed, to explore what wellness means to them personally.
But our work isn’t done.
We will use the brownstone as a “healthy living room” to host discussion events, speaker panels, and get-togethers where students can engage in conversation with experts—like members of CPS, Health Services, and Well Woman—and with each other.
In spare moments, we will fill the space with potlucks, yoga sessions, meditation, crafts, and of course, free food study breaks for anyone who needs a bit of stress relief and company.
Our brownstone will serve as an organizational focal point, a physical nexus where not only we can turn discussions into action to create real campus change, but meet with our dozens of allied groups as well. Our space will always be open for reservation to any group of students that wants to host a wellness-related event, or collaborate with us on one of their own events.
In a campus community where residents often feel immense pressure from their peers or neighbors to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior, the wellness brownstone would provide a crucial alternative living arrangement for students who want to pursue personal growth in a balanced and healthy way.
And finally, a wellness brownstone will serve as a permanent and cherished home for a family of students who will support each other through thick and thin, united by a passionate desire to improve the quality of student life in our own community. It will be an intimate safe space for the introspection, reflection, and honest dialogue that makes our mission possible. In the end, our group is strong not because of our achievements on campus, but because of the bonds of trust that we form between each other.
This home will symbolize Columbia’s commitment to the health of its students, and also represent the deep love we have for the people with whom we share this school. Friends. Roommates. Neighbors. Strangers we pass on College Walk.
As members of the Columbia student community, we do not exist in isolation. We believe that creating a community about wellness is not just about what we do for ourselves—it is also about what we can do for those around us.
Wilfred Chan is a Columbia College senior majoring in political science. He was a founding member of the Student Wellness Project. Priom Ahmed is a Columbia College junior majoring in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. She is the co-chair of the Student Wellness Project. This op-ed is written on behalf of the Student Wellness Project.