The University of Wisconsin’s 2021 spring break was initially scheduled for the third week of March. Due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission associated with mass travel, UW’s spring break was canceled for 2021 and replaced with off days on March 27, April 2 and April 3 and a delayed start to the spring semester.
To help create respite given the cumulative stresses of the semester adding up, UW embraced a student’s idea to promote student mental well-being.
The university was happy to take up a suggestion by UW senior Eli Tsarovsky, Dean of Students Christina Olstad said. Tsarovsky is a member of the Dean of Students’ Advisory Board, a group of students who provide administrative suggestions to the dean which they believe will resonate with the student body, according to UW’s Graduate Programs & Services website.
Tsarovsky said addressing students’ mental health recently became one of the board’s priorities.
“One of the concerns that has come up in that committee for the past year and a half now has been student mental health and well-being on campus,” Tsarovsky said on The Lounge podcast March 8.
Tsarovsky said the university aimed to improve UW’s mental health resources and connect students to resources they may not know exist to support them.
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“It was an idea elevated from a student and a way to collaborate with campus partners across campus, and Eli was a part of the planning team, to really bring Eli’s vision to life and have an impact on his fellow Badgers,” Olstad said.
Olstad said she hopes students will use the opportunity to develop healthy and effective forms of self-care, reach out to friends and use their social support networks to discuss mental wellness in addition to spending time outside and enjoying the warming weather.
Olstad said UW sought to elevate the conversation surrounding well-being and encourage individuals to create their own training plan for mental health.
“[We want to] also encourage them to connect with their friends and be honest with their friends about what they’re experiencing,” Olstad said.
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The summit included virtual sessions hosted by various UW professors and mental health specialists. For example, UHS’ Postdoctoral Fellow Blake Bettis and Access Specialist Liz Wescott-Barten hosted “Am I Just Bad at This?!: How Procrastination Actually Works,” a session intended to help students improve their ability to manage distractions and map out strategies to boost productivity, according to the website.
The summit also featured drop-in meditation sessions led by UW Center for Healthy Minds collaborator Stephanie Wagner, according to the Mental Health & Wellbeing Summit website.
The various sessions were held on Zoom and gave participants the opportunity to de-stress and reflect regardless of previous meditation experience, according to the website.
“The events I’m most looking forward to are around the collaborations with the Center for Health Minds, so really focused on meditation and mindfulness and building those skills,” Olstad said in The Lounge podcast.
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Olstad said if students do not know where to start when looking for mental health resources, they should begin their search at the Dean of Students Office. Olstad said she believes the office can help get students connected with the right resources for their various needs.
“We are at the halfway point, and this has been a long semester already, so it is really important to take care of yourself,” Olstad said. “You need to make sure to figure out what works for you around self-care and do that … and access the many resources that are available on campus.”
While UHS ran several mental health clinics and therapy sessions in the past, the Dean of Students’ Advisory Board sought to consolidate these resources to improve their visibility and ease of access, Olstad said.
Recordings of the summit’s sessions can also be accessed at the Mental Health & Wellbeing Summit website by those who wish to improve their self-care but were unable to attend.
“We all have mental health,” Olstad said. “We’re navigating a challenging time right now, so anything we can do to support our students [is a priority].”