Caring for the Whole You

By Guest Contributor

During the health and wellness presentation of my freshmen orientation three years ago, 500 other first-year students and I were given two memorable pieces of advice to get us through our first few weeks at Middlebury. First, we were encouraged to aim for a seven on a ten-point scale of appetite. That way, we wouldn’t leave the dining hall uncomfortably full or peckish and cranky. Second, we were encouraged to play hard-to-get when looking for love. I left the presentation dismayed and confused about how my appetite and flirting had anything to do with my wellness.

Not surprisingly, the presentation’s takeaway messages didn’t stick either. When Thanksgiving dinner was served in Proctor, I ate my way to a happy 9.5. When the stars aligned to play hard-to-get, I chose the route of honest and open communication instead. The truth of the matter is that the presentation neither spoke to my particular concerns as a bright-eyed first-year nor caused me to reconsider the way that I approached my own health and well-being.

It’s easy to forget that issues of health and wellness exist on this campus. On the whole, we’re a good-looking bunch of students. We’re intelligent and relatively hard working. We are taught to have a critical eye for the world’s most pressing issues. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like we have it figured out. Unfortunately, a stroll around Middlebury’s campus on an average weekend night may give a different perspective. Alcohol-related dorm damage peaked two years ago. Last year’s “It Happens Here” event attested to the existence of sexual assault on campus. Most of us have traded a cup of coffee for a few hours of sleep, and the number of students that have been tested for sexually transmitted infections doesn’t even scratch the surface of the number of students engaged in sex. Why are we so good at so many things and so bad at taking care of ourselves?

After three years of being frustrated with the student body’s disregard for their own well-being, I decided that I wanted to do something else – something more concrete – to change the way we talk about health. Plenty of lunchtime conversations about the prohibitive cost of STI testing, late nights spent studying and the Sunday morning post-party debrief led me to become a Student Wellness Leader. Student Wellness Leaders, liaisons to the Office of Health and Wellness, hope to address a few of these concerns. While we’re by no means the only group on campus interested in issues of health and wellness, our sole purpose is to organize campus-wide events, host speakers and form dialogue regarding the health of Middlebury students.

Last week, three other Student Wellness Leaders (SWLs) and I hosted a presentation on balanced living for First-Year Orientation. Instead of focusing our efforts on tips and tricks to staying healthy and sane during the transition to college life, we chose to share our own successes and failures in being healthy. We hoped to avoid the pitfalls of a high school health teacher preaching from the pulpit. We decidedly strayed away from discussing the USDA food pyramid and discussions of cardio versus weight training – though we couldn’t resist passing out condoms. Hopefully, the presentation didn’t go in one ear and out the other, as it had during my orientation, but rather encouraged new students to reflect on their own health and wellness.

This column is an effort to diversify the way we think about and talk about our well-being on campus. Throughout the coming year, SWLs will have the chance to write candidly about the issues they find interesting. Some of us want to talk about sexual health. Some of us want to talk about body image, alcohol, stress or sleep. All of us want to talk about what matters here at Middlebury. This is as much about your questions as it is our contributions – so get to know us because we want to get to know you.