Giving New, Healthy Habits the Old College Try
College students learn a lot of things when they move away from home, but healthy habits aren’t usually among them. That’s been changing in recent years, as a growing number of colleges and universities join PHA’s Healthier Campus Initiative (HCI). In 2018, 31 new colleges and universities joined HCI – a group that now totals 72 campuses, including 29 minority-serving institutions – to provide better food and nutrition and more opportunities for physical activity to students, faculty, and staff.
HCI partners create healthier living and learning environments throughout the year, but many also choose to kick off the academic year with a weeklong calendar of events focused on healthy living under the umbrella of PHA’s Healthy Campus Week. Institutions of all sizes—from California State University, Fullerton, with an enrollment of 40,000 students, to Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, with roughly 500 students enrolled—enjoy the opportunity to start the school year off strong by engaging the campus community in health and wellness activities.
Providing Student Health and Wellness Programming on a Shoestring Budget
Creating a healthier campus environment takes effort, but it doesn’t have to take extensive resources. Cheyney, the nation’s oldest historically black academic institution, proved this to be the case by leveraging its connections on and off campus into greater opportunities for its students.
“We collaborated with other organizations on campus, with faculty, with academic and student organizations, and with people in the community,” said Tracey Smith, a Life Coach and Wellness Specialist at Cheyney whose connections in the community helped her recruit no-cost and low-cost dance teachers, yoga instructors, and others to host on-campus events during Healthy Campus Week, September 24-30, 2018.
One instructor taught Hip Hop Yoga and line dancing. Another put on a program called Rappin’ to Prevention, which incorporated information on drug, alcohol, and tobacco use with dance movements. A male facilitator—a musician and poet—talked to young men on campus about the dangers of hyper-masculinity. Another spoke to young women about being Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired, a program focused on mental health issues such as anxiety and toxic relationships.
In the dining hall, a dietitian offered students samples of healthier meals and snacks, served up with a lesson on healthy eating.
“We wanted to focus on the whole student,” said Smith. “We wanted to show how mental and physical wellness impacts student success, both personal and academic.”
Smith, along with three other life coaches hired by Cheyney to provide support to students throughout the year, spread the word by enlisting help from faculty members and programs such as the First Year Experience, which provides guidance and support to new students. They were also assisted by the school’s Wellness Warriors, a group of students who help promote health and wellness activities on campus all year long.
“There’s always something going on at Cheyney,” said Thomas Nixon, Project Coordinator, Title III Grants Management. “This was how we kicked off the year, by showing students there’s something to do that’s positive and that gets them more engaged. The more engaged students are, the more successful they are in the classroom.”
Collaboration is the cornerstone of PHA partnerships, and when coupled with innovation and creativity, results soon follow. Take, for example, the case of California State University, Fullerton—a large, Hispanic-serving institution—and MINDBODY, the leading technology platform for the wellness industry, both of which joined PHA in 2018.
The MINDBODY app helps users at partner campuses find reduced-cost fitness classes in the community through independent studios and gyms. During Healthy Campus Week, MINDBODY identified a local dance studio that set up swing, salsa, and cha cha dance lessons on the Fullerton campus for anyone who wanted to give them a try. Participants received free PHA water bottles, sunglasses, and workout towels.
“We want to help people early in their college careers build a habit of health and wellness,” said Jennifer Saxon, Senior Director of Corporate Communications for MINDBODY. “Fitness does not have to be just getting on a treadmill. A dance class is an excellent form of physical activity and a lot of fun. We want to show students the wide variety of activities available for staying fit.”
Tracy Bryars, co-chair of the campus wellness council who works at St. Jude Medical Center, also brought in a Pound Fitness instructor. For two hours one afternoon, the instructor showed students, teachers, and staff how to pound out the beat with green, plastic drumsticks while moving to music in front of the campus recreation center. Students handed out information on healthy eating while members of the wellness council recruited passersby, offering free jump ropes to anyone willing to jump in and get active.
Other activities included Mental Health Monday, Rethink Your Drink, Dog Therapy, Outdoor Zumba, Wellness Workshops, and Fruit-n-Veggie Friday, during which students dressed as apples and split peas handed out free fruits and vegetables and asked their classmates to commit to eating more of them.
Healthy Campus Week went far beyond getting students to eat better and move more, members of the council said. It was truly about creating a healthier environment for everyone on campus – with lessons they hoped would apply off campus, as well.
“We wanted to make sure that they were learning about healthier eating and becoming healthier in their total lives,” said Alisha Brown, Director of Total Wellness for Fullerton’s Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion Department. She added that faculty and staff were encouraged to take the information home with them, where they could encourage healthier living among their spouses and children. “We wanted the entire family involved in this process,” she said.