Student Advisory Boards coordinate wellness initiatives
calendar icon26 Feb 2020 user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen
Lincoln, Neb.--The Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts undergraduate and graduate student advisory boards are coordinating a wellness initiative for students in the college.
A four-person wellness task force, led by faculty advisor and Associate Dean for Student Affairs Jacqueline Mattingly, includes undergraduates Madeline Reddel, a music education senior, and Malin Hayden, a junior theatre performance and directing and management junior; and graduate students Grace Trudeau, 2nd year MFA in stage design, and Terry Ratzlaff, 2nd year MFA in studio art (photography).
Trudeau said the issues they are seeing are systemic in multiple areas.
“Obviously emotional—college has become just more and more stressful,” she said. “And the isolation that we undergo in the separate buildings while still maintaining that community of the Hixson-Lied College has been really difficult on students finding outlets and being so limited on this side of the campus. Financial is another big crisis problem that we have because our schedules in all of the arts disciplines are so tight, so students have a hard time finding work. And then if they do have jobs, they spend all their money on food because we don’t have food resources on this side of campus, which is probably the third largest problem.”
UNL Student Affairs Office’s Big Red Resilience and Well-Being website (https://resilience.unl.edu) describes nine dimensions of well-being, which is providing guidance to the task force on what areas to examine with future programming: Career, Cultural, Emotional, Environmental, Financial, Intellectual, Physical, Social and Spiritual.
Reddel, who is also the Hixson-Lied College’s ASUN representative, said the interest in mental health issues goes back a couple of years.
“The past president of our advisory board, Skyler Dykes, saw a need to have mental health forums and have students explain their frustrations and problem solve together,” Reddel said. “After a few of those open forums, we felt we needed more concrete data about what students want and the pressures they’re going through.”
Last year, students in the Hixson-Lied College were surveyed, and more than 225 students responded.
“This was a consensus that all of us had come to either ourselves being tired or just seeing our fellow peers run down, exhausted, not being able to communicate or provide themselves to the fullest extent of their art,” Hayden said. “We were going back and forth about this for a few months until someone suggested doing a mental health survey to see what stressors were really affecting the students’ lives.”
The survey results showed several areas of concern, including mental health issues (including thoughts of suicide), stress and financial issues. Extracurriculars were also an important issue.
“Extracurriculars were not necessarily RSO clubs, but for instance, in the theatre school, you have to do 20 or 40 shop hours a week, or some of us are balancing one or two production a semester on top of our other classes,” Hayden said. “With the music school, it’s convocations. And the building wasn’t open 24 hours a day. That’s something that was changed this year through our survey. Students didn’t have time to practice. Art students are just huddling themselves in their buildings and never really leaving.”
Food was another major area of concern—particularly the lack of healthy eating options in the arts area of campus.
“In the Johnny Carson School, we have a vending machine, but it’s all sugar and nothing great,” Hayden said. “The closest dining hall on campus is Selleck, but it’s a 10-minute walk and 30 minutes to eat, and sometimes we don’t have that time. We’re next to downtown; however, that costs money.”
The task force is looking at other options, including exploring if other vending machine options are available and working with UNL’s Dining Services to perhaps get a food cart or other on-the-go type options available for students.
The task force is also working to promote wellness events already happening in the college, such as guest speakers in the Glenn Korff School of Music, mindfulness classes offered by Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Arts Jesse Fleming, and yoga sessions offered in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.
Assistant Professor of Practice Ann Marie Pollard began offering free 50-minute weekly yoga sessions this spring for students and faculty/staff in the college at the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.
“I think that yoga provides gateways to find the balance, stability and mobility necessary to keep a creative process alive and thriving,” Pollard said. “Playing with different breath patterns, exploring new ranges of movement and inviting stillness in the mind on the mat will equip students to rise to challenges, explore new ideas and concentrate when things get tough in their studio work. Creativity is easily stifled by imbalances within physical, mental and behavioral patterns and those imbalances can be addressed with yoga asana.”
Pollard said it’s important for both faculty and staff members to be involved to model the wellness practices they use in their own lives.
“Yoga plays a huge role in allowing me to teach, advise and mentor well,” she said. “If students primarily hear me pour out assignments, expectations and ‘to-do's,’ they might miss my desire for them to go at their own pace and to fill up their personal wellness tanks in order for their schoolwork and artwork to be fulfilling and satisfying. I think that if I'm going to expect students to maintain a high standard of creativity and personal practice I need to also make space for them to access their art with ease.”
The task force is also hoping to schedule a nutritionist to speak in March.
“We are in talks about bringing in a nutritionist because March is national nutrition month,” Hayden said. “So showing students how to meal prep or this is what you should put in your body versus this. But if you can’t, here are these substitutions.”
Trudeau said the task force is working on both short-term and long-term solutions.
“The survey was really positive, but there was obviously a question of is this just going to be a survey, and then we’re going to get neglected again? I think having student representatives has been really helpful in boosting that morale and reminding them that the initiative is something that’s going to take time to see major developments, but that things like bringing in yoga and even just small things like putting in the syllabus clinic hours or how to talk to your professor if you need it has been a really positive change,” she said.
“This year we’re trying to implement more sustainable and consistent events and knowledgeable events to give students the tools they need to solve their frustrations in the short term, while the administration tries to solve things for the long term,” she said.
Reddel said the discussions about these issues are important.
“I saw what was happening in my own classroom and in my friends’ classrooms and to myself as well,” she said. “So I thought a student has to step up to the plate to explain what’s happening. Because if no one is going to do it, then it’s not going to be solved or discussions won’t ever happen. Just having these discussions is important. I think the Hixson-Lied College has done such a good job in listening and caring, especially creating a new associate dean position [for Student Affairs]. I think we are going in a really good direction.”
Trudeau said being mentally healthy is important for everyone, but especially in the arts.
“It’s a really harsh industry, and it doesn’t have a great payout, so you need to be really confident and positive going through some of the struggles we go through,” she said. “And also theatre, unlike other art forms, is very collaborative. So your mood and your intentions are really reflective on the group. It’s insane to think that students at 20 years old could get burned out of their careers just because they had an unhealthy environment in college. I want to make sure that students here feel like they are set and ready to go off into a professional world or to go further on in school, which is very hard if you had a difficult time.”
Reddel said giving students the tools for holistic wellness will serve them well as they move forward in their lives.
“I just feel like as we are making our own way in education, our own lives, we’re starting to learn how to be on our own and be by ourselves,” Reddel said. “And so if we’re given the tools to be productive and happy and healthy, then within college and after college, we will be so much better at creating our art and creating our music. This mental health awareness and well-being is just so important to be an artist in the moment, and that’s why I’m so passionate about making sure everyone has the resources to do that.”