Article Image

Most Columbians recognize the link between their intellectual life and their total wellness. During course selection and shopping, save for a few unfortunate requirements, we strive to select classes that will stimulate our minds, engage us, and make a tolerable amount of work bearable. Insomuch as we see this academic balance and interest as vital to our wellness, we view our professors chiefly as the guardians of our intellectual well-being. We consult the oracular CULPA in the often-dashed hopes of finding the right professor to capture our minds, cater to our work habits, and otherwise foster our sanity and health by means of his or her classroom presence. That's where our engagement with professors usually stops—but it should go further. This is not to discredit the strong relationships between students and professors. I count myself among the many Columbians who value the mentorship and, at times, the friendship of professors who have taken an interest in our well-being and have shaped us holistically. But often those relationships develop out of a student's initiative to engage with a professor, the rare disposition of the far and few professors who seek out mentees, or some other highly selective mechanism. These relationships show us as students that professors can have a strong and formative role in the development of our emotional and personal wellness. They show us the way that professors, privileged to have a unique and regular form of contact with students, have a knowledge and a view of us as human beings, distinct from that of our friends and often of our own. From their podiums, or from the front of the lecture table, they witness the development of our minds. They witness the torture and struggle within those minds as well. Columbia's psychological services community recognizes that professors stand in a unique position to help identify, engage with, and direct students in need toward wellness resources. They recognize that professors stand a better chance of reaching the entire student community and have a better pretense for engaging with students on certain emotional and personal wellness issues than do any club leaders, advisers, or residential life officials. As such, they take great pains to make sure professors are aware of their potential role as a vital cord in the holistic wellness support net at Columbia. Counseling and Psychological Services attempts to offer basic engagement and training to instructors, especially those in small, Core classes (who will have the most reliable and deep contact with the whole student body). The training is elegant in its simplicity: Alert professors to resources available on campus. Give them the tools to direct students toward the sources they need or tip off the service providers in crisis situations. Encourage them to recognize that their position as teachers—not just as academics—makes this awareness and engagement a part of their job. But, as I have come to understand it through conversations with those involved in providing these resources, instructors are not required to engage with psychological services. Many instructors occupy class spaces far too large for them to see a truly meaningful opportunity to engage with or aid individual students. Many more view their positions as academic instructors as divorced from directly proactive and personal roles as teachers. And many more still, including those who do engage with the resources, question their qualifications and their right to intrude upon the personal lives of their students. Referrals by professors remain low out of a hesitancy to be proactive, presumptive, or invasive to students' private lives. Again, this should not discredit the inroads made by professors and psychological services in improving this situation over recent years. As some in CPS have advocated, focusing on engaging with Core instructors—like those in University Writing, who come into close personal contact with every student at the University in a difficult and formative period of their academic careers—is a smart and strategic goal. But the fact that there is such hesitance and that CPS and other organizations must work so hard and with such intense focus on targeting and influencing small groups of the instructor community tells us as students that there is a culture that works against our wellness—not intentionally, but subtly. We have the power to change it. Instructors have demonstrated willingness to engage with students who seek them out. Those of us with strong connections to instructors can encourage them to take on a proactive wellness role and engage with psychological services, while those not normally engaged can chose to do so to the same ends. This can hopefully send a signal to instructors that students accept and encourage proactive teaching by instructors, that we value personal interaction and engagement, and that we want them to be a link in the wellness chain. Of course, this does put more work on instructors' shoulders. In the current university environment, creating financial or benefits incentives for taking on this kind of workload and personal responsibility is unlikely. So we, as students, can also help to dream up less formal yet meaningful incentives for instructors to adopt these roles. It's a bit idyllic to believe that these signals can work perfectly. But as individuals who value our own wellness and understand our instructors as more than just intellects—as vital guardians and observers to our emotional well-being—must make some attempt to draw them into that role. 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.

wellness professors