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ND hosts eating disorder conference

Aaron Steiner | Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Eating disorders, disordered eating and body image issues are among some of the most pressing issues of our day, especially on college campuses, says Notre Dame graduate student Ali Wishon. This weekend Student Government leaders hope to address the problem with the inaugural Notre Dame Eating Disorders Conference.

The conference – which runs Thursday through Saturday – is a joint effort of the Student Government, the Gender Issues Committee and other campus groups.

Titled “Eating Disorders and the Campus Culture,” the event will bring together experts in the field that will address a broad audience including students, faculty, staff and administration from Notre Dame, as well as researchers, graduate students and representatives from treatment and counseling centers across the country – all with hopes of promoting awareness, research and further action.

A first for Notre Dame,

the nation

The student-led and student-organized conference is one of the first of its kind in the nation, said event organizer and student body president Lizzi Shappell said.

“Typically, these conferences are organized out of the University’s counseling center, out of the biology, sociology or psychology department or organized by other national organizations,” Shappell said.

An event like this is “very novel throughout the country,” she said.

Wishon, who coordinated the event along with Senate Gender Issues Chair Ashley Weiss, said a conference like this – focused on the college environment as a factor in eating disorders – isn’t typical.

“It’s difficult, because there are only a handful of people who are studying eating disorders right now,” she said. “More research needs to be done throughout the field.”

Weiss said they hope the event this weekend spurs discussion and promotes awareness – something that could lead to research and advance knowledge of the issues, Notre Dame and beyond.

Bringing ‘top researchers in the field’

Keynote presenters will include a Harvard Medical School scholar, Dr. Roberto Olivardia, and an award winning documentary photographer, Lauren Greenfield, along with a variety of other experts.

Both keynote speakers are “huge” for the conference’s inaugural year, Shappell said.

“Dr. Olivardia is one of the top researchers in the field, especially in male eating disorders,” Shappell said. Olivardia studies body image issues in men and is co-author of the book “The Adonis Complex.”

Greenfield has won HBO awards and gained national recognition for her documentary film “THIN”. The film screening and discussion with Greenfield will help to balance Olivardia’s presentation, Shappell said.

“It’s great we have the pop culture element in Lauren Greenfield, but also the more academic element in Dr. Olivardia,” she said.

“We’ve really tried to identify the key players in the field,” Wishon said. “We tried to bring together a group of people who are covering all aspects of eating disorders, since they are so complex.”

In addition to presenters and campus resources, the University Counseling Center, the University Health Center and Campus Ministry will be featured in a Notre Dame panel discussion on Friday, Weiss said.

“We have the unique opportunity to talk about what our resources are and what our resources could be, [becoming] a leader in how eating disorders are addressed on campuses,” Shappell said.

Number one focus: students

“We’re doing this for the students,” said Wishon of the conference’s overall purpose. “We want to get people talking and people to realize that this is a serious, life threatening issue on college campuses.”

Shappell agreed, saying that this is a “unique opportunity to hear and even interact with some of the leaders in this field.”

In addition to stimulating discussion among students, organizers say that they hope the event results in a greater emphasis on eating disorders across campus.

“My greatest hope is that this starts research and discussion … as to how we address this issue, both academically and in campus life,” Shappell said.

Beyond Notre Dame, Wishon said she hopes the event will inspire all people attending to effect change.

“We have brought together an exceptional group of researchers, and hope that everyone in attendance will walk away with a better understanding of the complexity and urgency of the issue,” Wishon said.

A long time in the making

Student Government initiatives have addressed eating disorders issues in the past, but student government leaders have been working on the idea of a broader event with a greater impact for years, according to Wishon.

“After watching several friends struggle with eating disorders, [former student body president] Adam Istvan decided that the Gender Issues Committee needed to take a closer look at the issue,” Wishon said.

Since then, Wishon and Shappell have coordinated Eating Disorder Awareness Weeks for the past two years.

The pair had “talked for a long time … about how we wanted to take it to the next level,” Shappell said.

When Shappell was elected president in 2006, Wishon said they were ready to pursue organizing a large-scale conference.

“When I was elected president, it was something that I was very passionate about, so we decided to [start] the very long process of planning for the event,” she said.

With help of current Gender Issues Committee co-chairs Weiss and Kevin Gimber, planning began last spring and continued over the summer, Wishon said.

“This conference has been a long work in the making and we are anxious to showcase and stimulate dialogue,” Weiss said.

Anyone interested in attending should register in advance, Weiss said, which can be done online at marketplace.nd.edu/cce.

Registration is free for Notre Dame students, faculty and staff. Events will be held at various venues across campus. A complete schedule is also available online.