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Officials to clear homeless encampment near campus in May
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • March 4, 2024

Officials launch Camp Wellbeing to combat midterm stress, promote harm reduction

The week of programming will highlight activities like a petting zoo in Square 80 and therapy dogs in the University Student Center.
Taytum Wymer | Photographer
Students peruse self-care resources like condoms and blood alcohol concentration cards during the Camp Wellbeing tabling last week.

Officials said they hope to combat students’ pre-midterm stress with petting zoos, outdoor yoga and a week of self-care programming between Sept. 30 and Oct. 8.

Sherry Leung, the director of student support, said the Office of Health Promotion and Education in the Division for Student Affairs is seeking to promote student well-being on campus through Camp Wellbeing — a weeklong series highlighting campus resources for students through the eight dimensions of well-being, GW’s wellness framework — and monthly harm reduction tabling in residence halls. She said through the week of events and resource tabling, officials in the OHPE will prioritize prevention over reaction and equip students with the resources to stay well during stressful times in college.

Leung said officials created Camp Wellbeing to increase student support as school ramps up for students between Weeks of Welcome — which span late August through late September — and midterm exams. She said the OHPE sees more students seeking support during the fall semester and at the beginning of the academic year.

“Concerns do vary, but a lot center around finding belonging and navigating the college experience,” Leung said in an email. “Our programming aims to align our services and resources with when students would need them most.”

Leung said the Camp Wellbeing Kickoff Fair, held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Kogan Plaza with 27 campus partners, marks the beginning of Camp Wellbeing. She said events will include petting zoos, therapy dogs, outdoor yoga, a flu-shot clinic and more.

“We like to use the analogy of a toolbox. Our role at GW is to provide students with opportunities to add to their wellbeing toolbox. It’s up to the students to use the tools,” Leung said in an email.

She said they are trying to reach students who may not know where to seek support or feel uncomfortable approaching the Student Support Center through the residence hall tabling. She said they have tabled in Thurston and Shenkman halls so far and will table in District House on Oct. 28 from 8 to 10 p.m.

“Our goal is to meet students where they are,” Leung said. “We are trying to do that both literally in terms of the spaces they live in, but also in an approachable way that enables them to connect with our team.”

Mallory McPherson-Wehan, a 2018 alum and the assistant director of health promotion and education who spearheaded the planning for Camp Wellbeing, said the week of events is meant to promote a holistic approach to wellness encompassing all eight dimensions of well-being — physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, social, intellectual, environmental and cultural. She said Camp Wellbeing aims to be proactive by ensuring students stay well, rather than only treating students when they are not well.

“You want to try to do as much prevention work so that you don’t have to do as much reaction and you lay the groundwork for a culture of prevention on campus,” McPherson-Wehan said.

Raegan Persful, a first-year graduate student and a substance-use specialist in the OHPE, said she hopes the events will make students more aware of the offices and resources available to them on campus.

“Talking to undergrad students, it seems like they think there’s not a lot of resources on campus for GW,” Persful said. “While there’s always room for improvement, there is quite a few people and offices that want to support students.”

Persful said the residence hall tabling is specifically geared toward harm reduction like safe alcohol consumption and where to get tested for HIV. She said they are giving away Nightcap Scrunchies that cover cups and glasses, dental dams, condoms, blood alcohol concentration cards and more resources to students.

Emily Htway, a first-year graduate student and a sexual health specialist with the OHPE, said she has been promoting HIV awareness and testing resources like Take Me Home, a free and confidential HIV test delivery service, and HIV trivia games at the events and the tabling. She said college students should get tested regularly because HIV and sexually transmitted infection rates are higher on college campuses than in the general public.

People between the ages of 15 and 24 account for half of all new STI cases, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“That’s why this age group is so critical to destigmatize testing and really emphasize the importance of it,” she said.

Htway said testing rates are low among college students primarily because of the universal stigma around the disease, including misconceptions about its transmission or what populations it affects.

A 2017 study found only 4 percent of U.S. college students responded correctly to questions about how HIV is transmitted and that 15 to 25 percent of youth have negative perceptions toward individuals with HIV. The study found a relationship between gaps in HIV knowledge and feeling an HIV stigma among American college students.

“Something that I’ve noticed though, at GW specifically, is that the culture here around sexual health is incredibly stigmatized,” Htway said. “Students do not, are not willing to talk to me.”

She said while Camp Wellbeing is not specifically centered around HIV awareness, she will be present at the events to provide students with information about HIV, where to get tested and to give out condoms.

“It’s really important to emphasize how important it is to get tested regularly and also to destigmatize HIV altogether and understanding that even if you do test positive for HIV, you can live a perfectly healthy and normal life,” Htway said.

Charlie Burk, a junior studying communication, said talking about wellness at the kickoff event was “fantastic” because she said GW previously has not put in enough effort to prioritize students’ well-being. She said conversations about mental health often surround treating mental illness rather than promoting positive mental health initially.

“What’s exciting about this event is that it’s proactive,” Burk said. “It’s allowing us to talk about these things, combat some of the stigma with some of these issues as well as getting actual resources provided to us to actually work toward wellness.”

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About the Contributors
Fiona Bork, Assistant News Editor
Fiona Bork is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication from San Diego, California. She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Student Life beat.
Rory Quealy, Assistant News Editor
Rory Quealy is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communications from La Grange, Illinois. She is the 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Health and Research beat.
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