As a Hard Semester Moves Toward a Close, a Call to Check In on Students' Wellness

Wellness options for Duke students

In an accelerated semester, Brandon Fain has a lot to cover in each of his computer science courses. But even with more academic content squeezed in less time, Fain thinks it’s important to start each class checking in on his students.

He takes a poll, and he sees some of the same responses every week: Tired, anxious, uncertain. But he says about 50 percent are also saying things like “excited” or “hopeful.”

“The challenges faced by our students are not related to the content,” Fain said during a faculty panel last week during Parents Weekend. “The difficulty is that they are trying to survive in a pandemic, they have families who are ill, they are dealing with racism, they are stressed, they do not know their future and worry about being able to get a job.”

While by most accounts the semester has been a success – research labs are successfully open, COVID numbers reasonably low and the combination of in-person and remote learning has shown signs of in innovation – there have also been indications that stress and exhaustion have taken a toll.

As the semester speeds to an early end just a month away, Duke leadership and faculty members have this week been sending reminders about the importance of wellness and resources for support to their students and colleagues.

Academic Council Chair Kerry Haynie began last week’s faculty council meeting asking faculty members to check in on the wellness of their students. Sanford Dean Judith Kelley sent a message to the Sanford community saying “our students need our support now more than ever.

“Recognizing the importance of overall health and wellbeing, we have encouraged Sanford faculty to be creative in course delivery and to remind students of Duke’s wellness resources available to them. Our students deserve and are receiving a full high-quality Duke education – taught by the best faculty. We are also committed to students’ overall health as part of their Duke experience.”

“You have done an amazing job this semester under challenging circumstances. Catch your breath, treat yourself to something nice, and get refreshed so you can finish the semester strong.”
-- Paula McClain

Likewise, Graduate School Dean Paula McClain, on World Mental Health Day Oct. 10, wrote Duke graduate students reminding them of the mental health resources that are available to them.

“You have done an amazing job this semester under challenging circumstances,” McClain said. “Catch your breath, treat yourself to something nice, and get refreshed so you can finish the semester strong.”

In their messages to their communities, the officials point students and staff to services that can assist individuals wanting assistance.

For students, two offices are the primary point of entry for outreach services:

  • CAPS is a psychological and counseling service that provides short-term individual and group counseling, couples counseling and more. It also offers a multitude of resources and referrals to help you cope during stressful or difficult times. CAPS counselors are currently meeting clients remotely through Zoom sessions.
  • DukeReach provides comprehensive outreach services to identify and support students in managing all aspects of well-being. If you’re concerned about the physical or mental well-being of yourself or another student, visit its website for resources and assistance.

But wellness can come from a range of activities, and Duke offices and student organizations are doing their best to provide students with lectures, discussions, meditations, volunteer opportunities, skill sessions, physical workouts and other creative outlets. This even includes magic! Many of these are organized and led by students themselves, who are credited by Duke administrators with stepping up to meet the need for this programming.

To get the word out to students, the Student Affairs’ Instagram account promotes mindfulness and wellness events every week – such as meditation, tea, dance and others activities. The weekly Short List, sent out by the Office of Undergraduate Education to all students, usually features a wellness activity in its calendar of top five items for the week.

On the artistic side, DukeCreate has moved online its workshops on CardioDance, painting, sewing and more, and the workshops have drawn more participants than ever. The DukeCreate page also includes access to creative activities organized by the Innovation Co-Lab, the Student Wellness Center and other university groups.

These activities will be valuable, university leaders said, to help students through the challenges of the last month and final exams.  In a recent newsletter to students, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Gary Bennett and Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon urged students “to find ways to take care of yourselves and support one another.”

“We know you continue to be deeply engaged in your academic work and have been putting your all into this compressed semester,” they wrote. “Regardless of where you are located right now, we encourage you to reach out to connect to your faculty, your advisors and other support staff on campus if you need anything. We're so close to the end of the fall semester--hang in there, and please keep taking care of yourselves and each other. We're in this together.”