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Board studies campus mental health concerns

| Friday, December 12, 2014

The Campus Life Council (CLC) has focused on student mental health issues on campus, according to student body president Lauren Vidal, chair of the CLC.

“There is a national upward trend in student stress, and we have seen this spike mirrored in the lives of Notre Dame students,” Vidal said. “We began the year with a preliminary report to the Board of Trustees on student stress, and we decided, through our findings, that Notre Dame was in fact a unique environment, with a more unique structure that we can capitalize on to become a university with an exceptional level of wellness resources and support.”

The CLC, a forum for students, faculty and administrators to discuss student affairs, created three task forces to dive more in-depth into student stress and mental health, Vidal said. Each task force focuses on academic climate, social climate or benchmarking.

“The academic task force has looked at specifically what our learning environment looks like and how our curriculum affects our students,” Vidal said. “This force has spent time speaking with students and faculty about the in-classroom and out of classroom demands, and they have also decided to look at if and why students overload on credits [or] pick up double majors.

“This force has also looked at the idea of excellence as an ND student and how a perception of perfection takes a toll on student stress levels.”

The social climate task force, consisting of rectors, Student Union Board leaders and student senators, has looked at the larger picture of a student through the lens of their social environment, Vidal said. The group concentrated on extracurricular activities and other free-time pursuits but also considered ways that the residence life system could impact social climate.

“[The social climate task force] has looked into the benefits of a no-program time bracket, which some universities have adopted,” Vidal said. “This policy essentially eliminates the option to program any organized event during a certain block of time, with the intended purpose to provide students with legitimate free time for personal purpose.

The third task force is benchmarking, which Vidal said is essential to the functioning of the other two task forces.

“It serves the purpose of using comparative data to strengthen the research and the findings of our other forces,” she said. “Benchmarking is looking into everything from ​academic statistics to data on how many of our students pick up double and triple majors, in comparison to our peer institutions.”

CLC’s goals for next semester involve more action on the data they have collected within the task forces, Chris Tarnacki, rector of O’Neill Hall, said.

“Our goal is to thoroughly understand and potentially provide recommendation on policies or services that might be put in place to better serve students,” Tarnacki said.

Sophomore Helen Hathaway, Badin Hall senator, said CLC is tackling the issue of mental health on campus in response to a widespread awareness that students are feeling increasingly stressed and anxious. She said the number of different perspectives from diverse members of CLC has helped discussion of the issue.

“Students, rectors and faculty are all able to offer their two cents,” Hathaway said. “So far in the year it is very evident from the richness of our discussions that each member is passionate about addressing mental health.”

Vidal said next semester CLC will put their work into action.

“We will hold meetings with the new team from the McDonald Center [for Student Well-Being] in an attempt to craft a Center that serves as an ideal addition to Notre Dame, and one that is centered specifically around enhancing the Notre Dame experience,” Vidal said. “We will also be making recommendations for the new First Year of Studies course, backed by our deep dive into ND culture and student climate.”

With regards to their goals next semester, Hathaway said the CLC has established a timeline of points to accomplish.

“We have devoted this school year to discussing and researching mental health so that we can present a report at the end of the year that will be useful to the University as its health and wellness programs grow and develop,” Hathaway said. “We will continue discussing and gathering evidence — be it data or anecdotes — so that we can use the second half of the second semester to construct a comprehensive and telling report.”

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