Wellness from the Inside, Out

Chris Nickels

The Colgate community will soon see a vast increase in the number of health-oriented programs on campus. They are the product of the Wellness Initiative, an enormous project endowed by Jay Shaw ’76 and his wife Debi with the goal of establishing lifelong healthy living habits for students.

The Wellness Initiative developed over a period of several years, originating with the University’s former Dean of the College, Adam Weinberg.

Director of Counseling and Psychological Services and Co-Director of the Wellness Initiative Mark Thompson stressed that one of the Wellness Initiative’s goals was interconnectedness – that is, to combine Colgate’s already existing health services.

“It’s not like we have never attempted to have students learn about what a healthy emotional life would be like,” Thompson said. “But too often they have been done in isolation rather than in a more comprehensive and integrative way.”

The creators of the Wellness Initiative intend to push for development in multiple areas of people’s lives: intellectual, emotional, social, physical, spiritual and vocational.

“We know that habits and ideas that are formed relatively early in life often predominate through the rest on somebody’s life,” Director of Health Services and Co-Director of the project Merrill Miller said. “We’d like to encourage people to start off with healthy habits that we think will help them throughout the rest of their life.”

Some of the Wellness Initative’s short-term programs have already come to fruition, like “Alcohol.edu,” which was required for all incoming first-years and which saw a 90 percent participation rate.

More short-term goals include making a student health care guide and a guide on mental health accessible to all students.

Additionally, the Wellness Initiative will bring in photographer Frank Cordelle in November for a book-signing, and again in February to exhibit his work titled The Century Project, which features the nude photographs and personal statements of females aged 0 to 100. The purpose of the project is to fuel discussion on subjects like body image, sexuality and domestic violence.

Other programs the Wellness Initiative might pursue include speakers, workshops, a health summit, a monthly newsletter and creating a smoke-free campus.

Miller as already confirmed a collaboration through which Morrisville State College’s Massage Therapy department would provide free massages once a semester at Colgate, and Thompson hopes to someday see a part-time nutritionist and a “satellite” fitness center up the hill.

These programs would be expensive to fund, but the Wellness Initiative has very recently gained access to significant monetary resources.

“Until the end of last semester, it was just this nice idea that didn’t have any money yet to fund it. Now we have funds that were not there that will enable us to do things that previously had not been possible,” Thompson said.

The funds that Thompson referenced are the endowment gift from the Shaws, who gave $1 million specifically for the Wellness Initiative. In addition, the Initiative remains one of Colgate’s top priorities in its new capital campaign.

The Wellness Initiative is not a finalized project; much research still has to be done to evaluate Colgate’s stance on specific health issues.

“Part of what we are doing is an assessment piece,” Thompson said. “If we want to have a sense of about how well we are doing as a community, as a campus, it would only make sense that we would assess where we are.”

One such assessment is the American College Health Association’s survey, which explores students’ behaviors and attitudes about sleeping patterns, cigarettes, substance abuse, sexuality and a range of other topics.

“I think that all our students are not different from other teenagers and other young adults who are on most college campuses,” Miller said. “I think our students are under a lot of stress…[which] leads to some behaviors that are not as healthy as they otherwise might be.”

Still, both Thompson and Miller wish to promote Colgate’s successful side as well.

“I think we have a lot of positive aspects to our campus,” Thompson said. “Our students do well when it comes to vocational issues, generally. We have a campus where lots of students are physically fit [and] we obviously have a really capable student body in terms of intellectual development. I think there a lot of things that are going well.”