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As part of its attempts to promote a holistic wellness agenda, the Student Wellness Project (full disclosure: I am a member) breaks down that otherwise vague term into nine overarching, interconnected, and overlapping dimensions of wellness. In my personal experience, it's easy to articulate all of those dimensions, save one: aesthetic wellness. It is difficult to explain exactly what it is or how it fits into the larger equation of wellness. But developments at Columbia over the last week involving student spaces provide just the right example to understand exactly what aesthetic wellness is and how it influences our well-being as individuals. By linking the technical and dull details of space allocations into wellness, perhaps we can influence the goals and decisions regarding space for undergraduates. A while back, a student told me about his misadventures trying to solve an issue with his tuition bill. The twists and turns, the inconsideration and contradictions of the bureaucratic hoops this student jumped through might have brought even Kafka to his knees. But, the student said, all of this would have been so much less defeating if the offices he'd wandered in and out of had been more considerate spaces. A simple coffee machine, he lamented, or a bit of color to break up the stark functionalism of the space, would have broken his lull and misery and helped him to endure bureaucracy with sanity. This is aesthetic wellness in its essence. While our perceptions of wellness weigh heavy with big concepts like stress culture, social stagnation, and depression, the spaces we move through can subtly compound those elements of unwellness. A grim or antagonistic space is like a micro-aggression against student wellness—invisible, but gnawing slowly at the soul, imperceptibly wearing away at a student's resolve and ability to manage his or her wellness as a whole until it becomes one of the largest threats to wellness. It may seem a bit dramatic to put aesthetic wellness so high on the list of wellness offenders, but at Columbia it's true that our spaces are serious threats to our wellness. Take Lerner Hall as a classic example. Architect Bernard Tschumi's plans for and commentary on Lerner abound with notions of transgression, displacement, shock, and even violence. While Tschumi intended the building to be functional as a meeting space, he also intended it to be a political statement. Lerner is a shock and a challenge that can be inconsiderate to the needs of students in an already disjointed environment. Beyond the hostility of the space itself to stressed students (prevalent in Lerner, but present in smaller instances throughout campus), the building's progress through history has been one of frustration to students. Ironically, a building constructed expressly for undergraduate space is increasingly cannibalized by bureaucratic offices year by year, fracturing, confusing, and degrading the spaces that were meant to foster student interactions and activities and thus increase the undergraduate wellbeing. Part of the goal of the SWP's recent project to decorate Lerner Hall for Valentine's Day was an attempt to reclaim a space for students and imbue it with the love and caring it so often lacks. It was an attempt to provide the aesthetic wellness that the student on his aforementioned Kafkaesque journey so requested. But it is not enough. Aesthetic can't just be about crêpe paper—it must involve larger programs to reclaim space for students and to make sure that this reclaimed space will be well and thus be a utilizable space. Currently at least three groups are involved in projects to change space on campus. Student government is working on plans to renovate Lerner's Student Government offices, while the Student Space Initiative seeks to bring more lounge space and student space to Lerner as a whole, and the Morningside Student Space Initiative is looking into ways to appropriate the space that will be vacated as graduate schools move to Manhattanville. These groups have students in mind. But it is worth saying that these groups should think about their projects not just in terms of space for students, but also in terms of the overall wellness, especially aesthetic wellness, of students. Consider, for example, lounges. Many focus on creating new lounges, but will the lounges themselves counteract the overall oppressive spaces on campus? Or will those spaces make the lounges a pointless exercise and another place for bureaucratic offices to expand later? Is it right to create a lounge when conference spaces and offices can foster wellness and student community building just as well in their own rights? If they are not already doing so, these groups ought to expand their missions to thinking about how to improve the aesthetic wellness of pre-existing spaces. Changing the aesthetics of an office is a low-cost fix, and one that, in conjunction with larger projects, can help to ensure the success of something like a lounge. But more than that, it will show that, inherent in these projects is a commitment to overall wellness and the connection of space initiatives to larger wellness issues. And they must be linked into that larger wellness equation. Mark Hay is a Columbia College senior majoring in religion and political science. He is a coordinator of the Student Wellness Project and the acting chair for the InterPublications Alliance. The Whole Wellness runs alternate Wednesdays.

Well-being lerner aesthetic
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