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Wellbeing at University

Every few weeks the counselors at AAS write an article on the theme of “Wellbeing”. As the university counselor at AAS, it makes sense that I write about a wellness theme that relates to university.

First, we should establish what “wellness” means. Wellness is “the act of practicing healthy habits on a daily basis to attain better physical and mental health outcomes, so that instead of just surviving, you’re thriving.” There are nine dimensions of wellness: emotional, occupational, social, intellectual, spiritual, physical, multicultural, environmental and financial.

How do universities address the nine needs listed above and help students to thrive?

To begin, let’s go back in time. Waaaay back.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. [Exodus 20: 8-9]

The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and ends when it gets dark on Saturday. What would happen if a university issued makeup exams on Saturday, and observant Jews were among those required to take the exam? That was one of the challenges Jewish students faced a few decades ago at university in the USA, and it was one of the challenges highlighted in a new podcast series, “Gatecrashers”, which examines the historical Jewish experience at the eight Ivy League colleges in the USA. The spiritual & physical needs of observant Jewish kids were often not being met. (Another example: the cafeteria may have served, say, shrimp wrapped in bacon as the main course for the evening, giving little thought to those following the Torah’s command to avoid shellfish and pork.) If such issues were raised, the university’s response was likely dismissive: “Well, this university is probably not the best place for an observant Jew.”

Things have changed a lot, and these days universities are very aware of the needs of their students, many of whom are from every corner of the world. They do their best to not only accommodate those needs but to enhance the student experience with programs and infrastructure that help students to thrive. Certainly this is the case with the university systems to which our AAS students tend to apply. There are usually well-developed policies and infrastructure to support students as relates to ethnic, religious, and socio-economic background, gender, learning needs, and disabilities. So, for example, the observant Jewish student at McGill University in Canada will find kosher meals on campus; the student from Equatorial Guinea at freezing-cold Dartmouth College will find a supply of free winter boots for ill-equipped students; the Iraqi Muslim at University of Michigan will find prayer rooms throughout campus and can benefit from an active Muslim Student Association; at the UK’s University of Sussex, a summer school for incoming students with autism is offered prior to the beginning of the school year so that they can get acclimated to campus and school routines before the school year begins.

Even more numerous are the “Bonus!” wellness programs that everyone can benefit from, like school-organized ski outings, regular stress management sessions, alcohol-free karaoke nights in the student union, financial wellness classes, preventative health screenings, or the campus extracurricular football league. The list literally goes on and on.

The programs and services offered at universities are vast, but not uniformly so. Students will want to consider their wellness needs when researching universities, and dig into the schools’ websites to see how their needs might be met. Is swimming a big part of your life? Check to see if the school has a pool. And if it does, is there an extra charge? Are there restricted hours for lap swimming? Etc. All these details can be found with a bit of searching online, or with an email or two.

We encourage students to find a “Best Fit” university, and for many students that begins and ends with the academic program at the university and its geographic location. But one should also consider those factors necessary to achieve a sense of wellness, and discover universities that do a good job of meeting one’s needs.

 

 

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