One of the most consistently stigmatized topics of conversation on college campuses (and elsewhere) is the subject of mental health. And, unfortunately, lack of acknowledgement of these mental and emotional hardships makes it increasingly difficult for college students to practice effective self-care.
On Oct. 22, Muhlenberg students and faculty were invited to attend Muhlenberg’s first Restore and Reconnect (R&R) Day. As specified by Dean of Students Allison Williams in a schoolwide email sent out on Oct. 20, the purpose of this day was to acknowledge the hardships and stress that the semester may be causing students and take a moment to “collectively catch our breath.”
Friday classes were cancelled and activities, workshops, free food and other opportunities to relax were further advertised in the email, along with an attachment providing a schedule of the events taking place throughout the day. Finally, Williams specified that she and the administration recognize that one day of relaxation and reconvening without classes will not solve the problem of mental health on campus. She continued to say that, “After Friday, there will be many other opportunities for us to work together on long-term structural and sustainable initiatives and changes to continue supporting the emotional well-being of our campus community.”
Friday proved to be a beautiful day. Students were able to partake in a surfboard challenge, help themselves to fall-themed food, rock-climb, get a massage, play games and even spend some quality time with dogs and puppies. Many other activities were available as well, but as a student, it was almost impossible to partake in everything.
The events of the day seemed to achieve the desired effect of a boost in morale. Student Government Association President Zaire Carter ‘22 said, “I believe the intentions of the day were good. I think it was one step in addressing the current student climate and truly understanding what students are going through.”
I believe the intentions of the day were good. I think it was one step in addressing the current student climate and truly understanding what students are going through.Zaire Carter ’22
Carter was not alone in this sentiment. Emily Burns ‘22 believes that Muhlenberg’s R&R Day was “a great first step towards a widespread understanding of mental health.” She agrees that the acknowledgment of a campus-wide issue is important and the day itself was fun, but further steps need to be taken.
There has been a lot of discussion among the student body regarding access to mental health services, lack of counseling availability and the stigmatized discussions surrounding mental health on campus among students and faculty. Valentina Nazzaro ‘23 expressed, “It is interesting to see how much money was put into this one-day event. Thinking about the bigger picture, I think that money could have been spent elsewhere, like hiring more counselors or bettering the services provided on campus.”
Castelle Eskin ‘22 expressed that she “felt frustrated that there were a lot of mandatory activities and assignments that were still going on.” Regardless of the efforts made to cancel classes, some extracurriculars and assignments were not accounted for, which reduces the effectiveness of a campus-wide push for a day of rest.
this day of focus was intended to signal to our community that the College takes very seriously the importance of mental health, well-being and connection in our community.Dean Allison Williams
Williams stated that R&R Day “surpassed all of [her] expectations in terms of student participation, faculty and staff involvement, and the overall vibe of joy and connection it created across campus. We went in knowing that by no means would a one-day experience solve the often deep and complex mental health concerns in our community and beyond. However, this day of focus was intended to signal to our community that the College takes very seriously the importance of mental health, well-being and connection in our community.”
Hopefully, Muhlenberg’s R&R Day is the first of many attempts to address the issues of mental health on campus and the rhetoric of destigmatizing the health of our students can keep changing. “Based on the success, I think that something like this will be offered again in the future,” Williams commented. “I also suspect that our academic policy committee, the Provost’s Office and the Registrar’s Office will have more conversations about the R&R day and/or other fall calendar changes that could provide a bit more respite in the middle of a hectic fall. This will take some time, but these conversations are underway.” Carter captured this sentiment by expressing, “Like all things, this conversation must continue. I was happy to see so many students taking advantage of the activities.”