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Shappell to promote awareness

Mary Kate Malone | Thursday, April 27, 2006

In the first of three State of the Student Union addresses she will give this year, student body president Lizzi Shappell announced plans Wednesday for a multi-faceted, campus-wide initiative to address eating disorders at Notre Dame.

Speaking at the final Student Senate meeting of the year, Shappell called for a “three to four day conference” – set to be held next winter – that will combine “presentations, roundtable discussions, keynote addresses and networking sessions” on all types of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and muscular dysmorphia.

“Eating disorders and body image issues have been undeserved for too long,” Shappell said. “As a Catholic community we are called to serve the members of our community struggling with eating disorders. As a Catholic university, we can and will address these issues in an innovative way.”

Calling for a biopsychosocial approach to the issue, Shappell candidly delivered telling statistics to senators about the prevalence of eating problems at the University.

According to University eating disorders specialist Valerie Staples at the University Counseling Center, 16.3 percent of the students who came to the Counseling Center last year reported eating concerns, Shappell said.

“This was 146 students,” Shappell said “Staples reports that these numbers have been consistent for the last few years, but [that] does not account for the number of students on campus with issues or concerns about eating disorders or body image problems who do not come to the UCC.”

Shappell said the conference has already received initial support from the sociology department, the Center for Social Concerns, the Counseling Center, the Center for Ethics and Culture, the Gender Relations Center, the Health Center, Faculty Senate, the University Committee on Women Faculty and Students, the Society of Women Engineers, the Sociology Club and the Feminist Voice.

Notre Dame is not the first school to engage in a multi-faceted approach to the problem of eating disorders. Conferences like the one Shappell is pursuing already exist at Pennsylvania State University, Eastern Michigan University and Brigham Young University, Shappell said.

While learning from others, Notre Dame will be forging “new ground,” Shappell said.

“We will work with academic departments to call for student papers and presentations on all matters relating to the biological, psychological and sociological elements of eating disorders and body image issues,” she said. “We will work with Student Affairs departments. … We will work with the student body to disseminate information about how to identify signs of eating disorders and how to be supportive to a friend struggling with an eating disorder.”

Shappell’s approach is not limited to public discussions and speeches. She said eating disorders should be studied in undergraduate and graduate research projects. Relating her plan back to University President Father John Jenkins’ inaugural address – in which he challenged the Notre Dame community to “find dimensions of their research agenda that reflect our Catholic character and values” – Shappell said students should “elicit and aid” in researching eating disorders.

“America spends $40 billion a year on diet products, yet only contributes $12 million to eating disorders research,” Shappell said. “We can approach this issue as an academic institution, calling for undergraduate and graduate research focused on eating disorders from the biopsychosocial perspective.”

Shappell noted that the common contributors to eating disorders – low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and lack of control, depression, anxiety and cultural pressures – might be magnified at Notre Dame.

“[T]he competitive atmosphere of Notre Dame can lead to increased emphasis on perfectionism,” she said. “As a student body who regularly sees this issue, yet is rarely challenged to address it in a holistic manner, we should creatively pursue ways to study and discuss eating disorders in a university setting.”

Shappell will deliver two more State of the Student Union addresses before her term ends next April.

In other Senate news:

Former Academic Affairs committee chair Chris Harris, who has been the driving force behind the implementation of the College Readership Program (CRP), also took the podium, declaring Aug. 24 as the temporary CRP launch date.

The Financial Management Board allocated $81,000 for CRP Sunday – effectively guaranteeing the controversial program will be launched in the fall. The extra funds came from an increased Student Activities Fee- now $95, up $15 from last year. The program stirred vigorous debate in recent months as some members of student organizations voiced concerns about its practicality and potential effect on the budgets of other Student Union groups.

The Program will provide 1,600 daily newspapers for the student body (560 copies of USA Today, 560 copies of the New York Times and 480 of the Chicago Tribune).

Harris said the papers will initially be available at both dining halls and he called on senators to talk about the program in their dorms to encourage student interest.

“Talk about it,” Harris said. “And obviously since this is a student government initiative this has your name on it Make it good. Make it big. Be proud.”