The Wellness Project — Yale’s newest University-wide initiative aimed at promoting mental wellbeing on campus — received over 50 applications for its student wellness grant, which will provide funding for student-led projects ranging from guest speakers to study breaks to focus groups.
In a Sept. 10 email to the student body, University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews invited interested students and student groups to apply for the grant, which will provide up to $1,000 in funding for pilot initiatives related to improving campus wellness. The deadline for proposals was Friday, and roughly half the applications came from students and student groups within Yale College. The other half came from students and student groups associated with the graduate and professional schools, Goff-Crews said.
In an email to the News, Goff-Crews expressed her satisfaction at the volume and diversity of funding applications received. She emphasized the importance of student involvement in improving Yale’s wellness culture and added that the grants allowed students to focus on what they see as most important to this issue.
“The goal of these grants is to let students have a direct hand in shaping campus culture around wellness,” she said. “Shaping culture requires effort from the top-down and the bottom-up; we want students to be actively involved in our efforts to enhance well-being across campus.”
Undergraduate applicants interviewed expressed similar views about the need for collaboration between students and the administration in changing the climate for mental health on campus.
Jackee Schess ’18, treasurer of Mind Matters — an undergraduate organization focused on increasing awareness of mental health and wellness — described the Wellness Project’s efforts to engage students as “empowering.” She said that while she is glad to see continuing administrative reform of Yale Health’s Mental Health and Counseling services, she is happy the administration is supporting students in their own initiatives as well.
“Obviously, reforms in Mental Health and Counseling need to keep happening, and this is a process I’m happy is underway, but [the Wellness Project] is also the other side of things,” Schess said. “It supports initiatives that students can get done on their own.”
Mind Matters’ application for the grant hopes to bring Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison — a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University who has written about her experience of suffering from bipolar disorder as a mental health professional — to campus to speak, according to Mind Matters co-president Audrey Luo ’17. Schess said the grant money would be helpful because the funding available through the Yale College Council for student groups would not be sufficient to bring Jamison to Yale.
Graduate and professional students interviewed also communicated their enthusiasm for the Project, which they said signals Yale’s progress in addressing mental health.
Bryan Yoon FES ’18, facilities and healthcare committee chair for the Graduate Student Assembly, submitted two proposals for the grant on behalf of GSA. One proposal asks for funding to conduct a mental health focus group study for graduate students to identify the common causes of mental health problems within that population, with a view to using the data acquired to develop wellness-related programs in the future. The second proposal is for a smaller-scale event on Science Hill called “DeStress Fest on the Hill,” which would feature therapy dogs, snacks and stress-relief activities in an effort to encourage graduate students in the sciences — who Yoon said often have busy lab schedules and feel obliged to stay indoors — to take time off from their studies.
“Unlike undergraduates and professional students, PhD students in the Science Hill area have limited control over their time. If not teaching, they are in lab,” Yoon said. “And it may sound silly, but we can’t always get out of our labs. Sure, there’s a crazy concert in Old Campus and free massages in [the Hall of Graduate Studies], but many Science Hill students can’t go because of our lab schedules.”
When asked if he believes the University’s mental health resources for graduate and professional students have improved since last spring, when the conversation surrounding well-being gained significant momentum, Yoon said there has been no new data on the topic, but he feels that Yale is moving in the right direction.
He added that the direction of University policy is more important than the speed at which improvements to mental health services are introduced.
“Of course, we all wish we could hire more mental health professionals, improve the coverage, have more student programs and make all problems go away,” he said. “But the issue at hand is much more complicated than just speed or the capacity of our mental health care facilities. In short, what we need is not just faster progress, but progress in the right direction.”
But other students said the most substantive changes must still come from administrative policies.
Luo said change in campus culture comes from the University administration rather than exclusively from the student body. She added that a unified mental health policy is needed for progress.
According to Goff-Crews, a subcommittee of The Wellness Project — which is composed of students, faculty and staff — will review all applications for funding from the student wellness grant and make decisions based on the thoughtfulness of the proposals, the areas of need the proposed project will address or the value it will bring to the student community. She added that she sees the high level of participation from students looking to improve wellness on campus as “extremely positive.”
Applicants for the student wellness grant will be notified by Friday, Nov. 13 of the committee’s decision on allocation of funds.