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Health and Wellness Committee discusses plan for new fee

This article was originally published on April 6, 2015.

Starting fall 2015, a new health and wellness fee of $80 will be charged to all students per semester. Dean of Students Christina Klawitter and Director of Residential Life John Winkelman initiated a Health and Wellness Committee this year to “investigate the state of the current health center on campus and imagine how it could function differently,” says Sam Kindler’17, who joined after working on a Sustainability Fellows project about health and wellness at the Powerhouse last summer.

Though still in the planning stages, the Committee will be drafting recommendations, based on feedback, in the coming weeks before it disbands at the end of the semester. Members of senior staff will take these recommendations into account when deciding how to spend the money from the health fee.

The three sophomores and seven members of staff and faculty in the Committee have been meeting every other week to review data on wellness, study other health systems and brainstorm ideas from a number of perspectives.

The group includes Christina Klawitter, Dean of Students; John Winkelman, Director of Residential Life; Tara Girard, Director of Health & Wellness Center; Heath Massey, Professor of Philosophy; Carol Mankiewicz, Professor of Biology; Linda Lauterbach, Executive Secretary to Dean of Students; Jennifer McCormick, Head Women’s Basketball Coach; Rebecca Taylor’17; and Bellande Bertrand’17 and Kindler’17.

Kindler, Taylor and Bertrand have been asking students about their experiences with the Health Center and ways they’d like to see it improved. Their conversations have revealed that many students have felt dissatisfied with the services. Some receive an uninviting response when asking for help, and feel the exposed location of the desk compromises confidentiality. The limited hours are not always conducive to class schedules, nurses are not always available, and there is no psychiatrist. The Health Center cannot provide notes telling professors a student is sick, and many professors have strict attendance policies. Others feel six free counseling sessions are not enough. There has also been a push to hire male counselors and counselors of color.

“Hiring other counselors other than white women seems like a priority,” Klawitter admits.

Kindler admits the Health Center has “failed many students” but sees hope. “I want to see students trust the health and wellness services of the college, but that trust needs to be earned. I hope that the changes that are being made can help improve its reliability amongst students on this campus and that in the future it can serve as more of a resource,” she says.

Since taking her position as Director of the Health Center spring 2014, Girard has worked to make some changes. For instance, the Center added hours through lunch, and has been open continuously from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Center also has a Facebook page, email address and updated website. The Committee also encourages students to speak up about their experiences and any changes they would like to see.

Girard wants to see the Health Center helping students to become comfortable advocating for themselves. Health insurance can be complicated for some students, leading to confusion over  bills. “We’re working hard on that. And I urge students to be proactive about it – you know, ask, how much is this?” Girard says.

The Committee has also considered ways the Health Center can be educational. “Do we have a developmental approach when it comes to health? Do we treat first-years differently than seniors?” Klawitter poses.

“I want the experience to be a positive experience. It doesn’t mean you’ll always get what you want, but [it could mean] you learn something,” Girard adds.

Winkelmann has heard many students tell him they feel constant stress beginning in August “and it doesn’t stop until May.” He often tells them “that’s just life,” though Kindler argues that there are significant differences between the stresses of college and in “real life.” For instance, friends and living space can change every year, sometimes every semester, and students have to figure out how to balance long-term and short-term planning. Many students also have to balance a job and classes. In addition, health and wellness can mean different things to everyone.

Thus, designing and implementing a college health and wellness plan presents a unique challenge. “Even if we had the resources to be a full service health care clinic, it wouldn’t really align with the college’s mission to do that,” says Girard. She adds, “Health care is very non-individualized. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. College health should be individualized.”

“I have a vision of the Health Center being a wellness union. By that, I mean a place of exchange, of ideas, talents, information, programming, resources, all from a health and wellness perspective,” Girard says. “My goal (and the whole committee’s goal) is for health and wellness to have a prominent place in student life.”

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