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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton adds Office of Health Promotion

<ir="ltr">The Office of Health Promotion (OHP), which will focus on the prevention and promotion of health and well-being, opened at the beginning of fall term. According to Janet Lewis Muth, director of health promotions, the OHP aims to create “a campus community that supports the overall well-being of all students.” The OHP hopes to complement and add to other health and wellness services that the college already provides, according to Lewis Muth.

“SHAC has been working very hard for years to address a growing concern related to mental health challenges on campus,” she said. “The fact that they’ve hired a fourth full-time therapist and that they’re in the process of trying to hire a nurse practitioner to be a prescriber is fantastic, but we also know that we want to work on the prevention and promotion of things as opposed to just reacting when there is a problem or health crisis.”

Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston explained that the college created the office in response to students’ desire for programs centered on what makes a healthy community. Student Wellness Advocates (SWAs) now work in the OHP. In prior years, Area Directors were required to dedicate 10 hours a week to working with and supervising SWAs.

“That didn’t seem to always happen,” said Emma Nicosia ’17, a SWA. Under the direction of the OHP, Nicosia explained that the SWAs “have a lot more formal support and supervision, but still run in the same format.” Although the format of the SWAs work remains the same, much of their programming is being rethought or reconstructed. Previously, the SWAs focused on four areas: alcohol and drug education, sexual and mental health, physical health and nutrition.

According to Minda Liu ’18, a SWA, “it was sort of the mission of the SWAs to promote health in those four categories, so we tried to program in a little bit of all of them. We kind of tried to do the whole balance thing, but we split it into these four areas that we realize now was kind of broad, and it was difficult to be fully trained in all those areas because they’re just so big,” she said.

Managing and understanding stress will be the focus of the SWA’s programming for the first term. Lewis Muth explained that these programs aim to talk about and acknowledge that Carleton can be a high-stress environment.

“One of the biggest areas of concern based on my conversations with staff and students and based on the Community Conversations last year as well, was around stress. Specifically, we want to understand stress and learn how to manage it,” Lewis Muth said. “That is applicable to the entire population, not just students who are actively in distress and need to seek the services in SHAC.”

“What we are hoping is that we can help students build strategies that will allow them to manage their stress in a healthy way, and not necessarily need to pursue services, which is not to say that is someone needs services they shouldn’t seek them. I don’t mean that in any way,” Lewis Muth said

In addition to the focus on mental health and stress management, the SWAs will work with the OHP to change alcohol education for freshmen. Part of this programming and focus comes from and is funded by the four year grant the school received last year, from Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration. Liu said that the change comes from a feeling that the previous New Student Week program “was so vague. It said: ‘It’s illegal to drink, but here’s a way to drink healthy’ It was very confusing.”

Now, the New Student Week orientation centered on the decision to drink or not. For example, the SWAs ran through scenarios freshmen might encounter and explained how to make a decision in each situation. In addition, in the past, New Student Week included an alcohol training known as “The Buzz.” This year, instead, first years took an online course before school called AlcoholEdu that provided some of the factual information about alcohol. To supplement this online training, the SWAs led a program called “What’s your BAC?” that stood for “What’s your Best Available Choice?”

Nicosia said the new alcohol programming is about “promoting a conversation about choices. We still want to have the factual information, like what a standard drink is. I think a lot of that information will come in the form of passive programming instead of coming onto floors and being like ‘this is how you pour a shot.’ While it’s important to know how to drink safely if you’re going to drink, we are taking a step back and saying: ‘Is this really what we should be doing?’”

With the shift in the conversation Liu says the SWAs are “less trying to change the campus culture, and more trying to allow the new incoming freshman class to shape it themselves. It’s less the administrators being like ‘No, no, no this is illegal, stop, we have to stop this drinking.’ It’s more like they don’t want the freshman coming in thinking that on this campus people drink like crazy.”

Nicosia expressed similar feelings about redirecting the conversation on campus. “There is this perception that ‘everyone’s drinking’ when you actually look at the data, you see that most freshman coming in haven’t had a drink in the past two weeks or 12 months–that kind of thing. We want to start trying to change the conversation, and instead of saying: ‘Everyone will be drinking. Everyone drinks. It’s inevitable,’ we want to not be assuming that. We were basically teaching people how to drink and saying: ‘There are rules, but…’”

“What we should be teaching people is how to make choices because whether or not they drink when they are here they are going to be making choices relating to alcohol,” Nicosia said.

The decision to make the alcohol training about choices fits into the general goals of the OHP. As Lewis Muth explained, “We’re thinking about it as kind of three main areas. One of those areas is really understanding what are the individual actions that I can take? What are the skills that I need to take care of myself and be intentional about my own well-being?

“The second area is really thinking about the college and the environment. Does the environment itself support good health and well-being for students? Then the last piece is about thinking about how health doesn’t happen in a vacuum. How does it happen in community? Are we thinking about each other’s well-being as members of a community?”

Now that the SWAs are focused more on mental health, the GSC has taken over the majority of sexual health programming on campus “primarily because both Laura Haave and I really felt that sexual health in isolation from healthy relationships and sexuality was an arbitrary separation,” Muth said.

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