Wellness center is a space to quiet the mind, recharge the body

Wellness Center
October 20, 2022

When Raina Runk ’24 walks through the Ann and Thomas Hoaglin Wellness Center, what she doesn’t see tells as much a story about Denison’s commitment to well-being as what she does see.

Runk doesn’t notice many fellow students scrolling through their cell phones. She doesn’t observe them sitting in the spacious lobby or the outdoor meditation garden with noses buried in laptops.

What Runk often witnesses, she says, is students using the 16,000-square-foot center for one of its intended purposes — a place to quiet the mind and recharge the body.

It’s clear students are taking advantage of the wellness-centered programs and opportunities within the limestone walls of the Hoaglin Center, a single-story structure that sits along Denison’s famed Chapel Walk and opened at the start of the 2022-23 school year.

More than 2,200 students and staff members registered for wellness programs in the first two months — a total that does not include visits for the medical and individual counseling services offered at Hoaglin.

“Before Covid, you would hear professors and faculty members say that it’s important to take time away from school work and just destress,” Runk said. “But I think there was a disconnect between what was being said and what was being done. Since this space opened, I see more students taking the time to do that.”

A timely addition

Even before the first spade of dirt was turned at groundbreaking, the university sought to accommodate a generation of students looking for resources to manage their own well-being.

“There has been a huge shift,” said Jack Wheeler, associate director of student wellness at the Hoaglin Center. “This generation is far more likely to have a conversation about their mental-health journey or just their general mental well-being. They also are a lot quicker to seek services.”

In recent years, Denison has been broadening its definition of wellness, creating educational programs that encourage a holistic approach and helping students develop the habits and skills to manage their health and well-being on campus and throughout their lifetimes. Denison was among five universities in 2020 to earn an Active Minds Healthy Campus Award, which recognizes excellence in prioritizing the health and well-being of students.

Emphasizing the importance of sleep, nutrition, and exercise on physical and mental health, President Adam Weinberg has been a vocal proponent of helping students develop “emotional agility and resilience” that enables them to thrive not only in their time at Denison, but in the years beyond.

The centerpiece of this effort is the Hoaglin facility, named in honor of Ann and Thomas, both members of the Denison Class of 1971 and longtime champions for their alma mater who led the philanthropic effort behind the center.

Hoaglin not only established a hub for health and wellness-centered activities on campus, it also expanded these services through Denison’s new partnership with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

The center’s arrival on campus could not have come at a better time.

Majeda Humeidan, Hoaglin’s director of mental well-being and psychologist, noted that young adults across the nation have experienced a rise in mental health concerns in recent years.

She cited a recent study from the Collegiate Mental Health Report that found 72% of American college students say Covid has impacted their mental health in a negative way.

“Young adults are aware of the strong connection between mental and physical health,” Humeidan said. “Having the Hoaglin center at Denison that attends to the whole person allows students to more holistically engage in their well-being.”

She also referenced a survey from the Census Bureau that states symptoms of anxiety and depression “on a near-daily basis” had spiked to 41% among adults in 2021 — a 30% increase from 2019. Beyond isolation and other challenges faced during the pandemic, factors such as the political climate, uncertainty about the future, and changes in access to social support have contributed to a rise in anxiety, according to a 2022 Harris poll.

Nearly 700 individual therapy sessions have been offered over the past six weeks at Hoaglin Counseling Services, Humeidan said, and at least one quarter of enrolled students seek counseling services at some point in their academic journey.

Humeidan is one of seven full-time mental health clinicians working at the Hoaglin Center’s counseling services. A part-time psychiatrist from the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center also recently joined the team. One-on-one mental health assessments and therapy sessions are common at most universities, and necessary for diagnosable clinical mental health disorders, but Humeidan lauds the proactive work of Denison’s wellness programs which help enhance mental and physical well-being.

“When students come to us, they are quite positive about the new center, its location, and quick access to a broad range of services,” she said. “We are continuing to assess needs and looking to increase collaboration across departments to enhance positive coping, emotional regulation, and self care among students — all skills that can also be taught outside of one-on-one counseling.”

‘Drop in and turn off’

Twice a week, Brooklyn Heller ’24 visits the wellness center to participate in yoga classes. There’s much she appreciates about the Hoaglin facility, not the least of which is the presence of natural light that pours through 2,600-square feet of windows.

But it’s the serenity of the wellness center’s environment that helps her relieve stress after a busy day of classes.

“With our crazy schedules, it’s nice to have a place where you can come and enjoy some peace and take care of yourself.”

“There’s only one place on campus that’s quieter, and that’s the library,” Heller said. “And that’s a different kind of quiet — a quiet where you are hard at work with your studies. With our crazy schedules, it’s nice to have a place where you can come and enjoy some peace and take care of yourself.”

Students are using the new facility for a wide variety of reasons beyond medical treatment and counseling.

There are rooms for meditation, yoga, and spinning, and group chats. Visits from therapy dogs are popular, as are the occasional campfires, morning smoothies, and paint nights.

The wellness rooms, which students, staff, and faculty can reserve for 30-minute visits, are a huge hit. Occupants can take a well-being break and relax in massage chairs, listen to soft music and trickling water, and indulge in aromatherapy.

“In our survey, 53% of the students who responded said they have attended a program here,” Wheeler said. “We know students are struggling with time — that’s one of the barriers that was mentioned — but sometimes all you need is just a few minutes to drop in and turn off.

“Students who come in seem to be more optimistic and hopeful. They see this as a space where they can relax and destress in an atmosphere that’s different than what’s going on across campus.”

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