Temple University cancels Friday classes for Wellness Day

Temple University graduate Maggie Dunleavy and her boyfriend are planning a cross-state camping trip for “a fun, carefree weekend,” as she puts it.

But the psychology student from Warrington, Bucks County, says she probably wouldn’t have planned the adventure if the university hadn’t canceled classes and assignments Friday as part of a “Wellness Day” for students and faculty to focus on her focus on well-being.

Though the university spontaneously offered two days off during the peak of COVID-19, it was the first to be scheduled and added to the calendar, said Dan Berman, vice chancellor for undergraduate studies. It’s a pilot year, but officials hope it’s just the first of an annual event that will help deepen the focus on mental health and general self-care at the University of North Philadelphia, which has more than 33,600 enrolled students.

» READ MORE: College students are experiencing worsening mental health from the impact of COVID-19, a survey has found. Here’s how to get help.

“It inspired me to do something with my life,” Dunleavy, 21, said earlier this week as he sat at a table on Liacouras Walk on a sun-kissed afternoon. “It’s a good mental break for everyone.”

Temple Day, which grew out of a group discussion about how academic politics are affecting student anxiety, is part of a growing effort by colleges to focus on well-being that began long before the collective trauma of COVID-19. Visits to campus counseling centers nationally have been increasing for more than a decade, but COVID has made the need to address student anxiety all the more urgent, officials said.

“We’ve seen an absolute spike in programming requests, students coming into the office just wanting to talk about mental health, stress management techniques and the resources available to them, much more than we saw before COVID,” said Liz Zadnik, associate director of the Temple’s Wellness Resource Center.

In addition to the Wellness Days, other universities, including the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel, have appointed Chief Wellness Officers to bring a new focus to wellbeing on campus. La Salle University has hosted “Wellness Wednesdays” for years, offering programs at the student center and via Zoom. More recently, in 2020, La Salle received a $1 million gift from alumnus Francis X “Frank” Stanton to expand services in his wellness services division.

Pennsylvania State University has had wellness days during COVID-19 but is now adding wellness to its entire calendar, spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. Activities listed for this month include: Yoga and Meditation, Intuitive Eating Workshop, Forest Bathing, Well-Being Wednesdays, Peer Support Group for Family and Friends, and a Love Your Body Week keynote.

And at Ursinus College this week, during her inaugural events, incoming President Robyn E. Hannigan announced that the school would sign the Okanagan Charter, an international pledge to infuse health and well-being into every aspect of campus life and expand its efforts locally and globally support financially . The work aims for more than mental health and self-care. This includes caring about others and the planet, and building students’ resilience – letting them know that feeling stressed is normal and showing them how to deal with it.

» READ MORE: As the need for mental health services for college students increases, campuses in suburban Pennsylvania are facing a shortage of mental health services providers

“It’s really a reflection of the integration of human well-being and planetary well-being, and I don’t think higher education needs to play a more important role in making sure people and places are respected and that they’re healthy,” said Hannigan, who wrote this summer President of the 1,500-student Liberal Arts College in Collegeville.

The University of Delaware is also among 17 US colleges to have signed the charter, which was launched in 2015 at the International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges on the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia in Canada. Drexel, Rowan and Rutgers are among other local universities that are part of the network, although they have not signed the charter.

Marla Gold, Drexel’s senior vice provost for community health and chief wellness officer, said Drexel is already getting the job done on the charter’s promise. The school plans to soon launch an online hub for all of its health and wellness efforts, including its anti-racism commitment. Still, Gold said she hopes to do a formal signing in the near future.

Ursinus, which created a health and wellness department last year, is considering a policy change that could improve student well-being, Hannigan said.

“We know that students are not doing well academically at 8 a.m.,” she said. “So why do we have classes at 8 a.m.?

“We know that when our athletes step off the bus after a trip, they need to be able to eat a healthy meal. Why is our canteen closed at 8 a.m.?”

The school has added mental health counselors and is planning more recreational activities, but will spend this semester in focus groups to discuss what else is needed, said Laura Molik, vice president of health and wellness at Ursinus.

Temple’s spa day comes at a particularly stressful time, amid midterms and papers due — and unlike some colleges, Temple goes straight from Labor Day into Thanksgiving week without a break. Gianni Quattrocchi, president of the student government, which has asked for a spa day, noted that despite Temple’s strong efforts to keep the area safe, students also have public safety concerns with a spate of robberies and shootings in the area had near the campus. Earlier this week there was a shooting on the block behind his Oxford Village home.

“You could have a thousand police officers everywhere and a million street lights and surveillance cameras, but that still won’t stop crime completely and there is still cause for concern for students,” he said.

The fear also stems from concerns about climate change and social inequalities and racism and life in general, said Zadnik, deputy director of the wellness center.

Although students are free to choose how they spend the spa day, they are encouraged not to do homework. The university will offer activities on the main campus and the Ambler campus, which doubles as an arboretum and features serene gardens and a high ropes course. Ambler will be hosting an outdoor brunch, Zadnik said.

In the afternoon, students can stop by the main campus for activity packs like How to Keep a Plant Alive, or a Make and Take snack, or grab a stuffed animal and go home, or a nice patch of grass find to relax, she said.

“We’re framing it as ‘Create your own wellness day,'” she said.

Jeffrey Doshna, President of the Faculty Association, did not have strong feelings about the benefits of Wellness Day and did not hear much gossip from the faculty.

But the students said they liked it, wished there was more.

“I feel like one isn’t enough,” said Carter Miller, 22, a supply chain management major from Warminster. “They like to overhaul us.”

Carter, finding peace on the farm, plans to pick and then bake apples.

Aminata Gackou, 24, a junior global studies major from Senegal, West Africa, said she will check on friends she hasn’t spoken to in a while.

Olivia Sulewski, 21, a Bucks County junior human resources major, imagines that she’s “hardly going to turn on my laptop.” Maybe she’ll do a little internship and then go to Center City for fun.

The day is especially meaningful for Kierra West, 22, a junior communications major from Philadelphia. It’s her 23rd birthday.

“I’ve been thinking about going to Six Flags,” she said. “I never was.”

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