When I reflect on what wellness means to me, I think of home-cooked meals, going to the gym, and watching my favorite comedy shows, such as “The Office.” In my three years at Barnard, I have witnessed a shift in the conversation surrounding personal well-being. What was once a topic that wasn’t as openly discussed has now become acknowledged by many Barnard and Columbia students. Most students at the University at large are becoming more aware that as New York City citizens, we all want to do better in every aspect of our lives—we want to have better grades, better internships, and better social events. While this drive to keep moving forward without stopping is what makes us amazing individuals, it also manifests into stress. This overwhelming stress takes its toll on our personal well-being and on our campus culture.
Within the last year, Barnard has experienced drastic changes to the resources it once provided for students. It was recently announced that the number of free counseling sessions for students at the Furman Counseling Center was reduced from 10 to eight for the entire year. This change follows on the heels of other administrative decisions, such as the fact that the P.E. requirement will be reduced from two semesters to one and that the pool will be closing at the end of this academic year. These changes do affect the aggregate of wellness resources on campus, especially the loss of women-only hours for swimming. I do hope, however, that we as students can all recognize that we need to continue seeking out other opportunities on campus, from Well-Woman to the many other resources.
Students are gradually realizing that self-care is no longer something that can be ignored in their daily lives. The creation of the Student Wellness Project (of which I am a member) has helped shape this wellness discussion, connecting the values of other campus organizations and departments already in existence. Campus groups such as Columbia Art of Living club, Nightline (which thankfully reopened this month), Active Minds, Stressbusters, and others have consistently provided outlets for students to learn more about their well-being. They can also now serve as resources for students who feel frustrated and ignored in the face of these recent cutbacks. One of the strongest messages that I see coming out of these groups, and SWP in particular, is that we all have to remember to take a step back and breathe from time to time so that we don’t lose ourselves amid all forms of campus stress. These groups have consistently provided ways for students to remind themselves of what they need to do to stay well and will continue to do so as long as stress is a daily fixture in our lives.
Students need to be willing to take ownership of their own well-being, and we can do this by being supportive and listening to one another when we need help. We must determine for ourselves whether reading or writing or walking is the best way for us to stay well. We, as students, have to be willing to be self-aware and honest, both with ourselves and with each other, if we want to overcome the stress that comes with the culture of competition with each other and with our own selves.
This conversation about wellness, however, cannot remain among students. We need to communicate with administrators and use the existing support system to make sure that we find a way to move forward in the face of cutbacks and find new alternatives. Those of us on SGA can serve as mediators for change, but ultimately each individual student must figure out what she would need from Barnard to stay well. While we are losing considerable resources at our college, between the reduction of free Furman sessions and the loss of the pool, we have to determine what we appreciate and value in our lives that will keep us strong, independent, and healthy.
The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in French language and literature. She is the vice president of Barnard’s Student Government Association and a member of the Student Wellness Project.
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