Shaw Wellness Holds Listening Sessions During Universal Quarantine


As students inch their way to the end of the universal quarantine, Shaw Wellness Institute hosted its recurring “Quarantine Listening Session” on Friday, Jan. 29 for students to meet and improve their wellness through the simple but keenly necessary act of socialization. Sponsored alongside Colgate’s Counseling Services, the sessions are meant to provide students with a safe space to express themselves, whether studying on or off campus. The goal is not just to connect students hunkered down in their campus dorms, but to connect all Colgate students who want to share their pandemic and wellness-related experiences. 

“There was concern that students felt unable to have meetings about mental health and wellness during quarantine as their roommates might overhear private conversations. To help alleviate this, we thought that having conversations with other students rather than mental health professionals might make students feel more comfortable,” Shaw Wellness Program Coordinator Vicki Coates said.

Each session is co-led by two of six Shaw Wellness student-workers who were trained in cultivating a comfortable group environment by Christian Beck, a Colgate counselor, and Becky Benedict, a Counseling Services intern. This week’s session was led by seniors Liana Escue and Shelby Stevens, who explained that there is no rigid structure in their guidance of these sessions. There are no forced ice-breakers, no organized discussion topics, no group activities. Within the hour-long session, students are welcome to simply drop in and speak to each other or the student workers about whatever they please. 

“This is more so a safe space for people to chat about things they’re struggling with or think through some of the opportunities for wellness in their schedules, especially during quarantine, and introduce healthy systems to help them get through this,” Escue said.

The ease and energy of the conversation during Friday’s session was a pleasant surprise. It proved a much-needed dose of spontaneous, light-hearted socialization, which made the fact that I was the only attendee an unfortunate surprise. Despite this, we shared concerns over the severity and unpredictability of the coronavirus, vaccination initiatives and the challenges of quarantine during a harsh Colgate winter. We swapped anecdotes about Zoom mishaps and our favorite professors, compared Hamilton restaurant preferences and reminisced about traveling across countries we can no longer visit. 

Escue and Stevens stated that such low attendance is in fact not out of the ordinary for many of Shaw Wellness’ current programs. They attributed this to multiple factors, including Zoom fatigue. Students are spending the majority of their days online, making it not only difficult to carve out time for events like a Quarantine Listening Session, but also difficult to motivate oneself to spend another hour on Zoom — especially with unfamiliar people.

Escue and Stevens also agreed that there is a lack of public knowledge about these programs, as event emails are all too often lost among the myriad of quarantine activities crowding the campus calendar. They are, however, optimistic that attendance will improve, since group therapy is a popular program and these sessions provide a similar outlet through which to find comfort in the shared struggles of the student body.  

“Last semester we noticed an interest in having some sort of open, peer-facilitated forum to discuss Covid-related concerns, lifestyle changes and how it related to wellness, and we weren’t able to implement that until this semester. Quarantine seemed like a really good time to create an open forum for people to find connections and social and mental wellness during a time that is especially difficult,” Stevens said.

These sessions are currently only scheduled during quarantine, but if there is a continued need for them they may continue beyond that period. One of Shaw Wellness’ priorities this year is to provide peer-to-peer connection and support, and the free-flowing, low-pressure environment of the Quarantine Listening Sessions demonstrates the value and success of these guiding principles.